Fire sprinkler + flaming cheese = water damage: Lessons from a restaurant’s mishap

Posted in: Commercial Insurance, Risk Management Consulting

A fire sprinkler, as this recent viral video shows, is an effective fire safety tool—but it can be unintentionally discharged when it is accidentally set off by friendly fire or a fire sprinkler head is struck or sheared off by a person or equipment.

Accidentally activating your fire sprinkler system can be very disruptive to your business and cost a lot of time and money as a deluge of water floods your building. You can call 911, but from there you’ll wait: and a typical fire sprinkler head for a commercial system (not including high-risk or special hazard systems which are much higher) will discharge between 20-40 gallons of water each minute that you wait for emergency responders, which could easily be 10-15 minutes. Even if help arrives in five minutes, at least 100-200 gallons of water fills your building, resulting in significant water damage and expense.

Most business owners never think about the fire sprinkler system, or its accidental consequences, until they are left to pay for damages.

So how can you prevent these accidents and save your business from significant costs, claims and damages?

3 practical steps to prevent and prepare for a fire sprinkler system discharge

Educate

Teach your employees the fire sprinkler basics. Typically, if one sprinkler head goes off, they don’t all go off (not including high-risk or special hazard fire sprinkler systems). Depending on the type of your hazardous work environment, each sprinkler comes with a heat-sensitive element with a different preset temperature that determines when it responds to heat from fire. Only those sprinkler heads in the immediate vicinity of the fire activate and discharge water.

Fire sprinkler heads, if tampered with, struck by tools or equipment, or damaged, can also go off without warning. Make sure your employees know never to hang seasonal decorations from sprinkler heads, which is very common cause of accidental discharges.

Protect

Only use approved cages or guards, made of tough metal that surrounds fire sprinkler heads, to protect them from being damaged if lightly struck. Also, mark areas around sprinklers that could be exposed to accidental impact.

Consider investing in a few prevention tools (quick-stop talon, fire sprinkler stop valve or sprinkler wedge). These can help reduce your property damage by temporarily stopping the water flow until the fire department arrives and repairs your fire sprinkler system.

Prepare

Plan for unintentional sprinkler discharge. Even if you educate employees and protect your fire sprinkler heads, your system can still go off—as shown in the video. To mitigate damage in your building, you’ll need to shut down your system quickly, which requires knowing where your control valves are and marking them accordingly. If you are located in a multi-tenant building, you may not have access to each control valve, which would delay you in shutting down fire sprinkler system—causing unnecessary additional damage. Discuss possible action plans with your landlord to mitigate this problem.

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series, which will discuss how to develop and conduct a sprinkler impairment plan when you shut down your fire sprinklers for regular maintenance or for repair, and how to notify your insurance company to avoid potential coverage issues.

In the meantime, if you have more questions about fire sprinkler systems and how to manage your related risks, please feel free to contact me at spomponi@psafinancial.com. For more safety tips, also check out our Risk & Safety Management Resources.

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