Chris Cutajar – Chief Operating Officer – Alberta Group
It’s a fact that a fire sprinkler system can help control fires and reduce injury, deaths and damages, often by 80% or more. But it’s never just as simple as a quick design and implementation. The quality of your fire sprinkler installation will affect its ability to keep you, or your tenants safe. To such an extent that you might even be better having no system in place than holding onto a false sense of security with a faulty one.
Creating a reliable building fire protection strategy requires the proper initial design and then professional installation of an automatic sprinkler system. Investigations after fire incidents reveal several causes associated with sprinkler system failures. From complete failure to operate, to ineffectiveness to control a fire and therefore failure to limit damages to life and property, poor fire sprinkler performance costs money and costs lives. Here are some of the top reasons why they fail to work:
- The water supply is shut off, the pressure is inadequate or there was an obstruction to the system’s water distribution.
- The system hasn’t been designed for the proper hazard level.
- Inadequate system maintenance.
The great news is that Fire Protection Engineers have made brilliant advances in the fire sprinkler industry recently, with new technologies and design methodologies making the systems more efficient and reliable.
But it’s not all plain sailing.
Whilst technology is improving, there are still industry-wide concerns over existing inconsistences in the design and installation of fire protection systems. The truth is that these systems will not perform their intended function if not designed properly, irrelevant of technological improvements. As opposed to just ‘fitting in’ with the building’s layout, careful thought and consideration needs to be implemented from the onset. It’s all too common for fire protection engineers who have worked in the building design/construction industry to witness shoddy work by engineers who failed to conduct proper detailed designs.
Bad designs, bad protection.
It starts with the design-document-phase of a project. Sometimes the only design information supplied on the drawings is “Sprinkler System to Comply with EN”. At the same time, the documents can include a “boilerplate” specification that does not correspond with the specific project requirements. Sometimes that isn’t even there.
Inadequate designs with limited information have led to engineering decisions being made during the shop drawing phase of the project, often by professionals who are not engineers. These inconsistencies can lead to non-competitive bids from contractors, presenting unnecessary challenges to the various code authorities who are asked to review the designs.
It gets messy and it gets dangerous.
Identify the buildings hazard level
If tackled correctly the first step of the fire sprinkler design process is determining the hazard level of the building in question. At Alberta we assess the materials used during the construction, the amount of people in the building, the types of materials stored there and the processes/operations that are performed inside. We also look into details like ceiling heights, ease of egress and the number of floors and rooms in the building.
The theoretical design area
Once we’ve assessed the hazard level in the building, the next step is to decipher the “design area,” which is the theoretical space where a fire breakout would be the most hazardous or cause the most damage. After we’ve determined the exact risk level this area poses, the same level of risk is then applied to the rest of the building.
We consider how much water it would take to put out a fire in the design area and use this information to build our fire sprinkler design. It assists us to determine the specifics of the fire sprinkler design such as the types of sprinkler heads and the amount of water pressure needed, which is extremely important.
Aided by our advanced fire sprinkler design software, our fire sprinkler design engineers calculate this amount, considering not only initial water pressure but also pipe friction, momentum, changes in elevation and so on. No detail is overlooked, which is the way should be.
Protection by professionals
As we have always done, we urge project managers, property owners, developers and business leaders who are responsible for the safety of the public not to cut corners. Go with a company you can rely on to get it right from the start.
Our fire safety professionals have been protecting clients’ businesses and homes in Malta and around the globe for over 30 years. Trust is a reputation we’ve earned and that we’ll never take for granted.