Firefighters Updated on Sprinkler Response

Fire Inspector Ivan LaGrand of the Cape Girardeau Fire Department knows too well the importance of building fire suppression systems. He understands that there is often a disconnect between the original design and installation of a system and the fire department that may arrive to fight a fire alongside that system, some years later. “Our firefighters are the first responders to a sprinkler activation and because not every building has them, it makes this training even more important,” said LaGrande. “Working with sprinkler system valves and the hydraulics involved is not something they do every day.”

NFSA’s Paul Richard recently presented a fire sprinkler training seminar to each shift of the Cape Giradeau Fire Department who serve the southeastern Missouri community of 39,000 residents and over 60,000 daily visitors from four stations. Each 3-hour class covered fire sprinkler system design and function, system impairments, and fireground operations using sprinklers and standpipes.

Based upon NFPA reports, sprinklers are effective at controlling the fire in 96% of fires in which they operated, but in 59% of the incidents in which sprinklers failed to operate, the system had been shut off. The training program reinforced the fact that firefighters must physically confirm that system control valves are fully open, and that fire pumps and other system features are operating correctly. With firefighters assigned to the sprinkler riser, fire pump and alarm panel, Richard recommended that a “Sprinkler Branch” be established as part of the incident command system to help supervise these functions.

During the program, firefighters were encouraged to be alert for changes of use and occupancy, storage commodity types, as well as configuration and arrangement that could have disastrous effects on a sprinkler system.

Those in attendance explained that the program was a good refresher, but others commented that there was a lot of new information as well. “Some of the firefighters were not aware of the details of a sprinkler system, such as the bell or horn on the outside of the building that sounds the alarm, but only when there is water flow in the building,” said LaGrand. “This can lead firefighters directly to the sprinkler control room.”

An underlying theme throughout the program was the importance of knowing the buildings and the systems within. Pre-incident plans can give responding firefighters the information they need to perform size-up and formulate an initial attack plan. The plan can include special hazards, the type and location of sprinkler systems, the locations of alarm panels, risers, valves, drains, hydrants, fire pumps, and other information.

During the pre-incident planning phase, the fire department can create long-lasting relationships with building owners and managers as well as the fire protection contractors who can be a valuable source of information before, during, and after the fire. Richard explained that when the firefighters have concerns about specific systems, they can always turn to a local sprinkler contractor for help.