Fire Protection and Overview of Life Safety Systems
Fire protection is a complex system and can be very difficult to understand, especially when you’re just getting started. There are many different aspects of fire protection that you have to consider.
I’ve detailed the most important things you need to know on this page. You’ll also get an overview of life safety systems, while highlighting some of the key points to remember.
Fire Protection Fundamentals
Fire is a critical aspect of our lives, but when it gets out of control, it can cause severe damage to property and even death. To mitigate its effects, fire protection systems are critical. Regardless of the type of building we’re describing, its size or occupancy classification, we must protect the occupants from harm due to a fire event.
The fire triangle consists of three elements: oxygen, heat and fuel. Add one or more elements to the mix, and you’ll have what’s needed for a fire to occur. The prevention and control of fires relies on this basic principle—remove any one element from the triangle, and there can be no fire; in other words:
- Lower the temperature below ignition point (flashpoint)
- Remove oxygen (i.e., smothering – starve for air)
- Prevent fuel supply (i.e., seal off combustibles)
Types of Fire Alarm Systems
In this module, you will learn the types of fire alarm systems and how they are classified.
Fire alarm systems are designed to provide audible and visual warning of a fire.
These systems use many different types of detection devices like: heat detectors, smoke detectors, rate-of-rise heat detectors, duct detector products, manual pull stations and water flow switches. Fire alarm system panels can be usually found in the main room on campus (usually administration).
These panels communicate with all the remote devices (e.g., pull stations) that are placed throughout the building.
There are basically three types of fire alarm systems: manual, automatic or a combination of manual and automatic.
Automatic Sprinkler Systems
Automatic sprinkler systems are one of the main components of a life safety system. A sprinkler system is generally intended to suppress a fire while it is still in its incipient stage, before it spreads beyond the area of origin and creates endangering conditions for building occupants.
The automatic sprinkler system accomplishes this by supplying water at a rate that will control or suppress the fire, thus permitting the safe evacuation of building occupants and the arrival of emergency responders.
Sprinkler System Components
A typical automatic sprinkler system consists of several basic components:
- Sprinklers: The device that discharges water to control or extinguish a fire.
- Alarm Valves (or Alarm Check Valves): Part of the wet pipe sprinkler system that automatically opens upon activation to supply water for fire suppression purposes and also supplies water for testing and inspection requirements; also known as preaction valves when used with preaction systems.
- Control Valves: Valve installed in an auxiliary line from a domestic water supply or other source that regulates flow into an alarm valve; often used as part of a dry pipe sprinkler system.
- Piping Network: The network that distributes water throughout buildings’ floors via floor drains, sumps, and/or standpipes through which spray heads or sprinklers can be connected to activate; also includes alarm check valves (wet systems) or electric release valves (dry systems).
Overview of Standpipe Hose Systems
If there’s a fire in your building and you need to quickly douse it, you’ll be happy to know that standpipe hose systems are incredibly useful. Essentially, a standpipe is just a vertical pipe that acts as an intermediary between your water source and the hose itself. By connecting a hose to the pipe, you can control the flow of water through it directly from the source.
Every floor of a building can have its own standpipe system or none at all, which makes this life safety system perfect for buildings without sprinklers. The choice to install standpipes is made during construction; if they’re installed before construction begins, they’ll appear as pipes coming out of the wall. In buildings where they haven’t been installed prior to construction, they could appear as red boxes with hoses inside them or green hoses running along walls and corridors.
Fire Department Connections
- Fire department connections (FDCs) are pipes that allow the fire department to supply water to fire hoses. As you can see in the image below, it is a large diameter pipe installed on the exterior of a building.
- FDCs are not designed to be used by your building’s automatic sprinkler system because they do not provide enough water for most fires.
- FDCs should be labeled and located per NFPA standards
Fire Pumps and Private Hydrants
These pumps are used to provide additional water pressure in the event that the municipal fire protection system is insufficient. This allows the sprinkler systems to operate even if the main water supply is compromised. Fire pumps may be electric or diesel powered, and there are a variety of manufacturers which produce them with different features and benefits.
It’s important that these pumps are tested monthly to ensure they are running correctly, and they should be inspected yearly by a qualified technician, as well as after any discharge or other run time.
Emergency Power and Lighting
- Emergency lighting and power systems are designed to provide illumination for safe evacuation of a building during an emergency. The emergency power (or backup generator) is activated by the fire alarm system, which causes the emergency lights to kick on. As you review your own emergency power and lighting systems, consider this rundown of the important components and their functions:
- Power source – The standby generator is typically fueled by gasoline, diesel fuel, or propane gas. Diesel has a longer shelf-life than gasoline, but propane has fewer environmental regulations associated with its use.
- Load transfer equipment – This refers to any switching equipment used in the system. It can include a manual transfer switch that allows automated load transfers between multiple power sources (generator and utility). A paralleling switchgear allows two or more generators to be connected together to increase output capacity if needed—and also allows for scheduled maintenance without shutting down the generator entirely.
- Controls – Modern digital controls allow operators to monitor engine performance and troubleshoot problems while they are occurring. They may also have remote monitoring capabilities so that technicians can watch everything from their office or home computer screens. This saves time and money by allowing them to arrive on site only when necessary—an arrangement that makes everyone happier!
Smoke Management and Exhaust Systems
- Air Handling Units: An air handling unit is a device used to regulate and circulate air as part of a heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. The air handler is usually a large metal box containing a blower, heating or cooling elements, filter racks or chambers, sound attenuators, and dampers. Air handlers usually connect to a ductwork ventilation system that distributes the conditioned air through the building and returns it to the AHU.
- Energy Recovery: A process in which some of the heat from an exhaust airstream is transferred to another airstream entering an HVAC unit so that less energy will be required to condition the entering airstream.
- Exhaust Fans: Horizontal discharge fans provide smoke control in stairwells when used with stair pressurization systems. They are typically installed on each floor at one end of the stairwell with louvers at the opposite end; they remove smoke from below while bringing in fresh makeup air from above through stair access doors left open for this purpose. Smoke exhaust fans also provide makeup air for other building exhaust systems such as bathroom vents and kitchen ranges.
- Smoke Dampers: Dampers (or valves) are installed in ductwork near supply registers (inlets) and return grilles (outlets), allowing airflow only in approved directions through certain designated fire barriers
- Smoke Shafts: A vertical enclosed space connected by passageways to a horizontal exit enclosure like a corridor or exit stairs; used for smoke control when activated by automatic fire detection systems; similar to but not synonymous with transfer shafts
Life safety systems provide an extra measure of protection for people in the event of a fire.
Life safety systems provide an extra measure of protection for people in the event of a fire. These systems include water-based sprinkler and suppression systems, as well as gas and chemical suppression systems.
They protect people by making sure they get out safely or by making sure they can wait in an area where smoke or heat will not be an issue until the fire department arrives. They also protect property that is vital to a business’s ability to operate, such as computers and paper records.
Life safety systems work in two ways: either they suppress a fire before it spreads (sprinklers, gas or chemical system), or they keep smoke away from people and prevent heat damage until the fire department can arrive (smoke control). The challenge with maintaining life safety systems is that few people know how complex these types of devices are, which leads to them being undervalued and not properly maintained.
The above are just some of the many possibilities to create fire protection and life safety systems. It is so important to have good quality fire alarms, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, and other life safety systems in public spaces. We need to work together to keep everyone safe from potential dangers.