Maintenance Required: Sprinkler and Pipe Inspections in Agricultural Facilities
Agricultural buildings play a vital role in the farming industry, housing valuable assets and providing critical infrastructure for various operations. One aspect that is frequently overlooked but crucial for the safety and protection of these structures is the upkeep of sprinkler systems and pipes. Neglecting essential maintenance can lead to catastrophic consequences in the event of a fire.
There are two types of fire suppression systems typically seen in agricultural facilities: pipe schedule systems and hydraulic systems. Pipe schedule systems select pipe sizing based on occupancy classification and specify the number of sprinklers allowed. Designers must know hazard classification, water supply details, and sprinkler placement. Hydraulic systems use mathematical analysis to match fire hazards to water supply pressure and volume. The hydraulic systems were invented in the mid-1970s and replaced the pipe schedule systems, however, pipe schedule systems are still prevalent in older buildings. Regardless of the type, sprinkler systems should be tested annually or in accordance with their jurisdiction’s requirements.
According to NFPA guidelines, a mandatory internal inspection of the fire sprinkler system piping is required every five years. Ryan Lay, Loss Control Manager of Agribusiness Risk Underwriters commented:
“We have seen an increase in sprinkler systems that require maintenance beyond the 5-year internal pipe inspection due to corrosion, obstructions in the piping, and/or the lack of adherence to NFPA 25 Standards. To ensure the fire suppression system operates as designed, property owners should review all comments listed on their annual inspection report. Furthermore, it is essential to comply with the requirements set forth by the Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs). AHJs are featured heavily in the standards and codes of the National Fire Protection Association as the ultimate arbiter of what will or won’t work in terms of a structure’s fire protection measures.” - Ryan Lay, MS, GSP, CRM, AINS, Loss Control Manager
Property owners should be aware and cautious of signs of obstructions that can occur suddenly, even after passing the sprinkler inspection. Failure to recognize and react promptly to signs of obstruction can lead to costly repairs in the future. Below are 15 conditions outlined by the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) that should raise red flags for farm and agricultural building owners in regard to their sprinkler systems:
Defective intake for fire pumps
Discharge of foreign material during water tests
Foreign material in fire pumps, dry pipe valves, or check valves
Foreign material in water during drain tests or plugging of inspector's test connections
Unknown material heard in system piping
An excessive volume of foreign material in pipes
Failure to flush yard piping or surround public mains following new installation or repairs
A record of broken public mains in the vicinity
Abnormally frequent false tripping of dry pipe valves
A system returned to service after a shutdown greater than one year
There is reason to suspect sodium silicate or other highly corrosive fluxes in copper systems
A supply of raw water via the fire department connection
The presence of pinhole leaks
A 50% increase in the time it takes water to travel to the inspector's test connection from the moment a dry pipe valve trips during a full-flow trip test, compared to the original system acceptance test
Ignoring the red flags listed by the NFSA can have severe consequences during a fire emergency. By staying vigilant and addressing these warning signs promptly, farm and agricultural building owners can maintain efficient and reliable sprinkler systems that provide effective fire protection.
The NFSA says that a comprehensive approach is necessary to identify, prevent, and resolve pipe obstructions. The investigation process should begin with a thorough visual inspection of all components, including fire pumps, dry pipe valves, and check valves. Any signs of foreign material or obstructions must be documented and addressed promptly. Additionally, water tests and drain tests should be conducted to detect the presence of foreign material during system operation. It is also important to regularly flush yard piping and public mains after installation or repairs to eliminate debris and ensure unobstructed water flow. In cases where obstructions persist, advanced methods such as video inspection or ultrasonic pipe testing may be employed to pinpoint the exact location and nature of the block.
Property owners should follow these recommendations outlined by the NFSA:
Adhere to the NFPA 25's requirement for 5-year internal inspections of pipes
Conduct checks on dry and preaction systems every three years
Annually assess a sample of sprinklers in areas with hard water issues
Promptly conduct necessary investigations when specific conditions are observed
By following a systematic and comprehensive approach of routine inspections, repairs, and preventative measures; farms and agribusinesses can help safeguard their vital structures and contribute to a safer farming environment.
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