Fire suppression systems can be a necessary investment, both big and small. It’s natural that you want to get your money’s worth. When choosing a system or systems for your organization, it’s important to take into account the type of fire suppressant that is suitable for the application rather than choosing just based on the lifespan of the solution.
The lifespan of fire detection and suppression systems will vary depending on the type of system you have and the maintenance that is performed (or neglected). For example, the Department of Transportation requires all compressed gas cylinders to be hydrostatically tested every 3, 5, or 10 years. So what are the different types of fire suppression systems, and what are the maintenance schedules or expected lifespan? They include:
Carbon Dioxide (CO2): These gaseous fire suppression systems work efficiently and quickly to suppress fires. CO2 systems are commonly used for unoccupied spaces and facilities due to the potential for harm to humans who come into contact with the gas after the system has expelled its contents. NFPA 12 for CO2 systems states that these systems should be tested every five years. Like most fire suppression systems, they should be inspected regularly and recharged and/or replaced after a fire event as indicated by the manufacturer.
Dry Chemical Suppression: This type of system is used to extinguish fires caused by combustible or flammable liquids. This agent is great for flammable liquid storage areas, furnace rooms, or mechanical rooms. According to NFPA 17, dry chemicals in stored pressure systems don’t require semiannual examination but should be examined at least every six years.
Wet Chemical Suppression: These fire suppression systems use a liquid chemical agent to prevent re-ignition. This fire suppression system works well for Class K fires, most commonly kitchen fires. The life span for wet chemical suppression systems is five years.
Water: Fire sprinkler systems use water to suppress fire and protect assets. Some sprinkler systems automatically detect smoke, heat, or fire, while others are manually triggered. What is the life expectancy of a sprinkler system? Building owners and facility managers usually expect fire sprinkler systems to last 40 to 50 years. However, due to the presence of oxygen, water, and metal, corrosion issues can cause wet water systems to start failing in 15 to 25 years and dry water systems in eight to 12 years.
Clean Agent Fire Suppression System: This type of system uses chemical agents that leave no residue, making it ideal for sensitive applications like museums, archives, libraries, computer or server rooms, wind turbines, precision machines, etc. This system can use two types of clean agents, FM-200™ or NOVEC™ 1230. According to NFPA 2001, containers that are continuously in service without discharging should be given a complete external visual inspection every five years or more frequently if required. All hoses should be tested or replaced following that same schedule.
Regular maintenance is vital for the lifespan of your fire suppression system and to make sure it stays in good working condition, able to handle a fire breaking out. Your maintenance will depend on the type of fire suppression system you have in place, but general steps include:
It’s important to have a certified technician check your fire suppression systems for any signs of wear and tear. Damage can occur in busy workplaces, and routinely looking for any issues could cause a malfunction. Most fire suppression systems are required to be inspected by certified technicians.
Your supplier should have a recommended maintenance schedule with specific tasks, and may even offer a service that can conduct regular inspections so you don’t have to worry about remembering. They may be able to provide you with a fire suppression system maintenance checklist or other tools as well.
Whenever a fire breaks out, your fire suppression system should be inspected and tested, and parts (or all) should be replaced to get it back in working order as quickly as possible. For example, after a dry chemical system discharge, the valves will need to be rebuilt or replaced since leaks can develop if your cylinder is simply recharged. With a clean agent system, you probably won’t need to replace any parts and will just need to refill. It is best to follow manufacturing guidelines for refill or recharge specific to the type of system you are working with.
No matter what type of fire suppression system you have, the fact is that it won’t last forever. In fact, NFPA guidelines state that fire suppression systems should have a regular inspection by a certified technician. The timeline for inspections depends on the specific system and can range from semiannually to once every 6+ years. Consult your manufacturer or supplier for information regarding your fire suppression maintenance schedule.
The most reliable fire suppression system is the one that fits your needs and puts out any fire that breaks out. Whether you are protecting an entire building or a piece of equipment, there is a suitable fire detection and suppression system that meets your individual requirements. Choosing a fire suppression system that is suitable for your specific application and fire hazard class should be the top priority. To maximize the longevity of your fire suppression system, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and have regular maintenance intervals.
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