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Fire Protection FAQs

Your overall fire protection system is one of the most important things you have in your building. Between your fire sprinkler system, fire extinguishers, fire alarms and exit lights, it’s imperative you keep your systems in proper working order at all times. However, many people are unclear on exactly what their fire protection systems actually do and how they work. At Guardian Fire Protection, we want our customers to have the best information possible about their fire protection systems. That’s why we put together this list of the most common questions we get!

Fire Sprinkler FAQs
How does a quick response fire sprinkler work?

Quick response (QR) sprinkler heads are typical in high-density, light-hazard environments, including hospitals, assisted living facilities, office buildings, and schools. They are also often installed in residences.

QR sprinkler heads respond faster to the flames below by activating at a lower temperature than SR sprinklers. They have 3 mm bulbs that allow the liquid inside to expand and break the glass quickly. It’s only appropriate to install QR sprinkler heads in applications that are unlikely to have high ambient temperatures that could trigger a sprinkler head without a fire present.

How does a standard response fire sprinkler work?

Standard response (SR) sprinkler heads are best suited for commercial or industrial buildings, including factories and warehouses. They activate individually to prevent causing water damage where there is no fire present.

SR sprinklers take longer to activate than quick response sprinklers, requiring the heat from a fire below to reach a higher temperature before the liquid inside the bulb expands, the glass breaks, and water flows through the sprinkler head. SR sprinklers contain 5 mm glass bulbs that take longer for the expanding liquid inside to burst them. That said, these sprinkler heads still react within seconds, quickly dousing any fire.

How much does a fire sprinkler system cost?

The ultimate cost of your fire sprinkler system depends on the brand and type of sprinkler system you install, but usually you can expect to pay anywhere from about $1.00 to $2.00 per square foot for new fire sprinkler system installations. Retrofitting an existing building with a new fire sprinkler system is more expensive, averaging about $2.50 per square foot.

The actual price of your fire sprinkler system will vary based on the overall size of your fire sprinkler system installation. Also, many insurance companies offer discounts on insurance premiums for buildings that have fire sprinkler systems installed, so be sure to factor that into the true, lifetime cost of the installation.

How do fire sprinkler systems work?

Most sprinkler heads contain a small bulb with a colored liquid inside. This bulb acts as a plug to prevent water from escaping out of the sprinkler. The heat from a fire causes this liquid to quickly expand. Once the pressure in the vial gets too high, the bulb bursts and releases the water behind it.

The liquid inside the bulbs comes in a variety of colors, and each color represents the temperature required to activate the sprinkler:

  • Orange – 135°F
  • Red – 155°F
  • Yellow – 174°F
  • Green – 200°F
  • Blue – 286°F
  • Purple – 360°F
  • Black – 440°F

Since the fire sprinklers are activated by heat, there is no risk of accidental activation of your fire sprinkler system by smoke or dust in the air. That said, the bulbs are very fragile and any tampering could cause them to go off. If a sprinkler head gets accidentally knocked off (by a forklift, truck, repairman, etc.), there’s going to be lots and lots of water flowing through that sprinkler head until the system is shut down.

Why do I need a fire sprinkler system in my building?

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), buildings with a working fire sprinkler system see an average property loss and risk of death per fire that is 50 to 66 percent lower than buildings without sprinkler systems. Broken down by industry, civilian deaths in sprinklered buildings between 1989 – 1998 were reduced by:

  • 60 percent for manufacturing properties
  • 74 percent for stores and offices
  • 75 percent for nursing homes
  • 91 percent for hotels and motels

In addition, the average property damage per hotel or motel fire was 56% less in structures with fire sprinkler systems than without. The numbers above tell a compelling story. Fire sprinkler systems save money, and more importantly, save lives.

How can I maintain my sprinkler system?

The most important thing to do to keep your fire sprinkler in good shape is to have it inspected by a Guardian Fire Protection professional once a year. Frequent fire sprinkler inspection will help catch any problems with your system so they don’t prevent it from operating properly in the future. In addition, fire sprinkler system maintenance will usually lower insurance premiums.

In terms of specific do’s and don’ts when it comes to your fire sprinkler:

Do:

  • Test your fire sprinkler system monthly by opening the test valve and listening for an alarm bell.
  • Know the location of the fire sprinkler system shutoff valve.
  • Make sure the fire sprinkler system control valve stays open.
  • Have your system reevaluated for needed upgrades when:
  • Leave the building and contact the fire department as soon as possible after the fire sprinklers go off, even if it looks like the fire has already been put out.

Don’t:

  • Paint the sprinklers.
  • Damage sprinklers (report any damage immediately).
  • Hang objects from any part of the system.
  • Obstruct or cover the sprinklers.

Fire Extinguisher FAQs
How many fire extinguishers do I need in my building?

While the exact number of fire extinguishers required for each building varies based on the unique layout and hazard level, as a general rule of thumb you should have no more than 75ft of space between Class A fire extinguishers and no more than 50ft between Class B fire extinguishers.

What do the letters and numbers by the fire extinguisher classification mean?

Every fire extinguisher has an alphanumeric rating that tells you what types of fires it can extinguish as well as the size of fire it can put out.

The letters stand for the class of fire the extinguisher can be used against:

A – ordinary combustibles (wood, paper, plastic, etc.)
B – flammable liquids (oil, gas, petroleum, etc.)
C – electrical equipment
D – metals
K – cooking oils and fats

The numbers indicate how much of the fire can be put out by the fire extinguisher. Every number before the A means it is as effective as 1 ¼ gallons of water. For example, 2A means the fire extinguisher is as effective as 2 ½ gallons of water, and so on. The numbers before B and C are a measure of the amount of square feet the fire extinguisher can put out. For example, a 10:BC fire extinguisher can extinguish a fire over 10 sq ft.

If your business in DC, Maryland, or Virginia requires fire extinguisher services, contact Guardian online today to schedule service!

How often do I need fire extinguisher inspection?

Normal fire extinguisher inspections are required once a month to make sure there is no obvious damage to the device and the fire extinguisher pressure is adequate. You can perform this inspection on your own – click here for more information about monthly fire extinguisher testing.

In addition to monthly extinguisher self-tests, full fire extinguisher maintenance is required once a year and a fire extinguisher hydro test is required every 12 years.

What kind of fire extinguisher do I need in my commercial kitchen?

If you own a restaurant, you already know you need a special type of fire suppression system to keep your kitchen safe from fires. But did you know you also need a special type of fire extinguisher too? Fires that commonly occur in commercial kitchens, such as grease fires, are referred to as Class K and require a special Class K fire extinguisher to knock them down and prevent reflash. At Guardian, we provide Kidde Wet Chemical Class K extinguishers for all your kitchen fire suppression needs.

Is fire extinguisher training required?

Yes. OSHA standards require any workplace that has fire extinguishers available for employee use must also provide an educational program for employees to familiarize themselves with the basics of fire extinguisher use and the hazards associated with it.

What is the best type of fire extinguisher for sensitive electrical equipment?

If you have sensitive electronic equipment, such as in a computer room or data center, using a water or a dry chemical fire extinguisher can cause as much damage as a fire itself. Instead, use a clean agent fire extinguisher such as a Cleanguard FE 36 (made by Ansul) or a Halotron I (made by Amerex) fire extinguisher.

Halotron I – Halotron I discharges as a rapidly evaporating liquid that leaves no residue. It does not conduct electricity and is suitable to fight Class A, B, and C fires.

Cleanguard FE 36 – the Cleanguard FE 36 is a replacement for Halon 1211. The Cleanguard extinguisher has comparable performance and efficiency to Halon 1211 but is less toxic and has zero ozone depletion potential.

Fire Alarm FAQs
How long will a fire alarm last?

When properly maintained, a good fire alarm will last you about 10 – 12 years. After this long you should have your fire alarms replaced, even if they seem to be working – you don’t want to compromise your building’s fire safety. In addition, technological advancements are making fire alarms more and more effective every day, and you don’t want to be stuck with an outdated model that won’t keep you as safe as possible.

What is the difference between conventional and addressable fire alarms?

The biggest different between conventional and addressable fire alarms is customizability. Conventional fire alarms sit on the wall or ceiling and go off individually when they detect smoke or fire, making them perfect for small buildings such as individual offices or retail shops.

Addressable fire alarms, on the other hand, provide specific information about individual detectors that is invaluable if your office is part of a larger building or building complex. Addressable fire alarm systems can be customized to where different devices have different alarm thresholds based on their locations. Addressable fire alarm systems are typically more expensive than conventional alarms, but the extra information they provide to firefighters and building managers is invaluable.

What kinds of fire alarms are there?

There are two types of fire alarms: ionization fire alarms and photoelectric fire alarms. Ionization fire alarms detect flaming, fast-moving fires – curtain fires, trash can fires, etc. Photoelectric fire alarms are best for smoky, smoldering fires, such as electrical fires that start out behind walls. There are also dual sensor fire alarms which, naturally, combine both types into one.

Do I need a fire alarm system if I have a fire sprinkler system installed?

Yes. Even though fire sprinkler systems are highly effective fire protection systems, they only kick into gear after the fire has already started and the heat has risen to a certain level. Fire alarm systems detect the presence of fire before the flames start, giving you extra time to escape the building. They can also automatically alert the fire department.

Is fire alarm monitoring worth it?

A fire alarm monitoring service will keep tabs on your building 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If one of your fire alarms goes off, the monitoring company will notify the fire department within seconds – you don’t even have to be there. Everyone has heard horror stories of people showing up to work and seeing the charred wreckage of what was once their office (and all their equipment, data, etc.) – don’t let this happen to you!

Why does my fire alarm constantly chirp or beep?

Most smoke alarms will chirp at regular intervals to indicate their batteries are low. If your fire alarms seem to be making noises randomly, there could be a number of things going on:

The battery may be loose or improperly installed – make sure the battery fits properly in the battery slot. Otherwise, the connections may not make good contact with the battery. If the battery wasn’t put into the slot properly, just pop it out and put it back in.

The fire alarm cover may be dirty – over time, dust and dead bugs can collect in the sensor chamber of your fire alarm, causing it to chirp. Make sure you keep the sensor chamber clean (the easiest way to do this is to vacuum it out every time you change the batteries). If the room in which you want to install the smoke detector is especially dusty, install an ionization fire alarm so the dust doesn’t affect it.

The fire alarm may need to be reset – most new electronic fire alarms come with logic boards that tell the alarm to chirp when the battery gets low. Unfortunately, replacing the battery doesn’t always stop the chirping! Sometimes you need to hit the RESET button in order to ensure the smoke detector works properly.

Power to the fire alarm has been interrupted – a power surge could interrupt power to the fire alarm, causing it to chirp when the power is restored. Hitting the RESET button should take care of the problem.

The fire alarm may need to be replaced – if all else fails, you may need to have your fire alarm replaced. Fortunately, fire alarms are relatively inexpensive and replacing them is no problem.

Fire Suppression FAQs
Why is Halon being phased out?

Starting in the 1960s, Halon 1301 (halogenated hydrocarbon) became the industry standard for protecting high-value assets from fire without simultaneously threatening water damage. While Halon is fast-acting, doesn’t harm delicate assets, and requires minimal storage space, it depletes the ozone at an alarming rate and is potentially harmful to humans.

For these reasons, the Clean Air Act of 1994 banned the production of new Halon. Existing supplies have sustained the operation of Halon fire suppression systems that were installed before 1994, which are still legal to own and operate. However, because of the environmental problems and health hazards of Halon, you may wish to remove and replace this system with a safer option.

Why does kitchen hood suppression matter?

Cooking equipment is a leading cause of fire in a variety of industries, including restaurants, healthcare facilities, schools, offices, and mercantile properties. The high cooking temperatures, open flames, flammable oils and grease, and hectic nature of commercial kitchens make exhaust hood fire suppression critical for putting out flames that might ignite here.

How does fire suppression work?

The purpose of automatic fire suppression is to extinguish fires with no human intervention. This requires the system to detect fires and deliver an extinguishing agent all on its own. Heat detectors and thermo-bulbs are conventional methods of fire detection. Then, pressurized fluid stored in nearby tanks flows through a release valve, into piping, and out of nozzles to douse the fire quickly and effectively.

Many different extinguishing agents besides water are available for fire suppression systems. Therefore, this type of fire protection is ideal for libraries, museums, data centers, server rooms, medical record rooms, engine compartments, control rooms, and other areas where water damage could be detrimental. Examples of fire suppression extinguishing agents include FM-200, high- and low-expansion foam, carbon dioxide, wet chemicals, and dry chemicals. The type you select depends on the application.

No matter what extinguishing agent you choose, the goal is the same—to disrupt the fire triangle. This is accomplished by either smothering the flames to cool them or cutting off the fuel source from oxygen.

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