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11-15-2008, 12:36 PM #1
Can a building still burn down with a sprinkler system ?
Reason I ask, I'm weary of paying what I think is outrageous insurance premium on a modern (1997 construction) 15,000 sq ft metal building with full sprinkler system and it occured to me if fire was not an issue the annual premium would be way better served with self insurance.
So the big question is, have any of you guys ever heard of a metal building with sprinkler system burning down ? And if so, how the heck did it happen...did a sprinkler head fuse not blow, was water pressure inadequate, was it chemical related such that the water was not effective...or ??
11-15-2008, 01:40 PM #2
I know I'm stupid, but is there anyway that the high premium is caused by HAVING the sprinkler system? I can see where a simple sprinkler malfunction could heavily damage your building full of late model CNC equipment. In 1995 I worked at a mold shop that was located in a building involved in a fire. Almost all our damage came from water damage and not fire damage.
11-15-2008, 01:40 PM #3
I've been asking my insurance agent about this, as I thought I'd get a reduction in premiums if I used more metal and less wood in my shop. Most of the answers were insurance-babble, but one thing that did come out was that any shelving in a shop with a sprinkler system needs to be wire-mesh so the water can penetrate.
Seems moot if you don't have much shelving, but it was the only sensible fact I could extract from gibberish and jargon.
There was a notorious nightclub fire in Rhode Island a few years ago that led many municipalities here to require sprinkler systems in new construction. But premiums didn't go down for those buildings.
11-15-2008, 01:46 PM #4
What generaly does most damage is the smoke. if u have a sprinkler system it will stop the carniage of a fire but will still leave every thing smoke damaged, hence costing the insurance still. Hence minimal saving in there eyes :-(
11-15-2008, 01:48 PM #5
11-15-2008, 01:51 PM #6
11-15-2008, 02:00 PM #7
Yes, buildings that have sprinklers have burned down. Depending on what you are doing in the building may require a system. Usually, the code is over 25,000 sq. ft. requires a system regardless of activity. However, I have heard of companies being required with less area due to the materials being used.
11-15-2008, 02:20 PM #8
Code in this area is any commercial building over 10,000 sq ft sprinkler system is required.
11-15-2008, 02:23 PM #9
I know this is another non answer to the original question but doesn't that same insurance policy cover other forms of loss as well as fire. What about when the local hoods steal the roof top AC unit, or do multiple thousands in damage when they break in leaving the doors wide open so the pipes freeze up (not a problem in your area) or the wind blows a portion of the roof off. Wouldn't you have to self insure against all the other forms of loss as well as fire?
11-15-2008, 02:35 PM #10
I expect something like a natural gas leak and the ensuing explosion would be considered fire. While rare, there was one from Colorado in the news a couple of days ago. 1 dead, several injured.
A forklift propane tank could possibly do the same thing.
Ten? years ago there was a town in North Dakota that burned down when it was flooded.
11-15-2008, 02:36 PM #11
The short answer is yes. Water is great for Class A fires, but not good to harmful for Classes B, C, & D. It’s typically the contents that cause the majority of fire/smoke damage rather than the structure.
Do you have an alarm system with fire/heat/smoke detectors? Those tend to give one a better insurance rate than other fire/safety items such as sprinklers.
That said, I’d get some other quotes.
11-15-2008, 02:57 PM #12
I have Sentry insurance, and on one of my owned buildings (5000 sq. ft) with $500,000 building insurance, $250,000 in contents, general liability, I pay about $1200 a year. Steel building, No sprinklers.
I used to have Erie, they were pretty good too.
Trust me though get insurance. I would shop around.
Being a firefighter myself (volunteer only though not full time) I have seen some big Steel buildings destroyed by dumb little things.
One had a car catch fire inside at night, the place was basically empty other than that with 20 foot cielings, but it was really bad.
It seems as if it could not burn down, but I have seen it first hand.
11-15-2008, 03:38 PM #13
Speaking as a former firefighter, I can say that it would be extrememly rare but yes a building such as yours can "burn down". I remember about 20 or so years ago , in PA I believe, a huge warehouse which I seem to remember as K Mart burned. Pallet racks were installed thru out and the sprinkler system was not extended to the pallet racks. Therefore most of the fire load was sheltered as the building collapsed near the origin sprinkler mains were broken and the whole thing went up.
However the fact that it is a steel building is not really an advantage. Cheap to build also means cheap to replace. Your sheeting panels are likely prepainted or galvanized and would be damaged by smoke. Purlins and other framing may warp. Then it may well be cheaper to replace than repair. Your real risk is the contents. Most fires in sprinklered buildings are controlled and often extinguished by the first head so damaged is limited. Forget the movie and TV portrayals of sprinkers causing a flood. That one head will flow maybe 10 gallons per minute and as soon as it opens your water flow alarm should have the fire dept. on the way.
The real benefit of sprinklers is life. There was no loss of life under a properly installed and functioning sprinkler system for about the first 100 years that they were used.
11-15-2008, 03:49 PM #14
11-15-2008, 04:14 PM #15
Probably a question to be asked of a fire marshal. It is true that water damage can be heavy in a building equipped with sprinklers. This make it an arguable point where the building construction is non flammible but perishable contents are concern. There's lots of verifiable scare stories about water damage. The one about the concrete block metal roofed warehouse full of foundry equipment for example. Or the brick meat locker where a hundred tons of meat spoiled because the reefer compressor room was flooded.
Anyway get hold of the fire marshal. Maybe UL.
11-15-2008, 04:32 PM #16
Most fires in sprinklered buildings are controlled and often extinguished by the first head so damaged is limited. Forget the movie and TV portrayals of sprinkers causing a flood. That one head will flow maybe 10 gallons per minute and as soon as it opens your water flow alarm should have the fire dept. on the way.
11-15-2008, 04:37 PM #17
Be worth looking at it from the other side.
What have you got in there that could start a fire and, short of outright vandalism, what can you do to ensure that no fire can start in the unoccupied building. I guess if its occupied it could only be one machine trying to go up which you can jump on with extinguishers. Fire marshal / risk assessor or similar is the guy to talk to but I suspect you could pull your risk assessment way down relative to a standard industrial building used for standard industrial things / standard storage. Insurance guys go on their tables or risk "guesstimate". If you know the rules and can put some effort into exploiting them you should be able to score a good saving. For $4,000 or so a year its gotta be worth a couple or three days fudgiting around in the rules and setting things up to jump through the low quote hoops.
11-15-2008, 11:23 PM #18
Long winded reply sorry
There are many types of sprinkler systems used in an industrial setting. The most common is the wet system, where only the head or heads directly over the fire go off. The requirement to sprinkler all buildings over a certain square footage makes sense in my mind from the perspective of flex space, in that you do not know what the space will be used for. The other is going to be primarily a function of monentary politics between the developer and the municiple authorities. Example: "If I sprinkler the project will I be able to increase the size?" Makes it easier to sell in areas of limited fire protection as well since it may mean a tank piping and hydrant system that will also benefit the surrounding area thus helping to improve the municiple ISO rating which affects everyones insurance costs.
The purpose of a sprinkler system is mis-understood by most outside of the Risk/Fire business. A properly installed and maintained system both limits the damage to the property by buying time for the Fire Department to arrive and do our thing, and most important of all provides valuable time for any one who is in the building to get out. If connected to an alarm company it also reduces the time to report the fire, thus speeding up the responce. Sprinkler heads are temp rated for the process they are to protect: Office space will be either 165 or 212 degree heads. Those in the rest of the building will generally be 212 heads. those near heat producing items and processes will be of higher temp ratings. The standard orriface for most heads is 1/2" with those used in rack storage being what we can Large Drop Heads with 3/4" or even 7/8" orrifaces. The max flow from a head is usually dependant upon the system dynamics but has to meet the minimum requirements in the Code NFPA 13. This is around 12 gallons a minute flow per head. Contrast this to the standard flow from an 1&3/4" fire hose of 125-150 GPM. The longer a fire has to grow un-inhibited the more water we need to use. "Most" fires in sprinklered buildings are contained to the area of origin by fewer than 6 heads. To my knowledge, water damage to machinery from sprinklers or fire streams is easily cleaned up and limited as opposed to the corrosive effects of both the smoke and heat from a fire.
To answer your Question, Yes I know of metal structures such as yours being lost. This is generally caused by a change in occupancy creating a fire loading that exceeds the capabilities of the sprinkler system and or in conjunction with the failure of the building occupants to adhear to accepted housekeeping practices allowing the fire speard to overwhelm the system.A good inspection program by the local Fire dept. and or code enforcement agency helps prevent this. An annual inspection by your insurance provider hepls as well. As I stated earlier system maint. is required. This catches problems early so as to prevent the system from not working if needed. This generally involes an annual test to ensure that there is no blockage in the lateral feeding the system, that the water motor alarm bell work(birds and bees love to nest in these), The alarm company if there is one receives the alarm, and if there is a pump involved,that it work as designed.
tdmidget mentioned the K-Mart warehouse fire in Bucks County Pa. The reason the system failed there, was because the employees helped to defeat the many protection measures in place. Fire doors are not to be blocked open or they will not work. storing materials such as aerosals in multiple locations other than the designated spaces works against you as well. In this case, flamming spray cans rocketed thought doorways into other parts of the warehouse before the water curtains or fire doors could become effective causing multiple fires thoughout the building. These cause a system failure by overwhelming the capabilities of the system. It needed more water than it could provide and the fire basically grew unchecked causing the roof to fail, bringing down the pipes to areas that where not yet involved thus the domino effect resulting in a total loss.
Common sense and good habits keep me and my bretheren from paying you a visit you do not want.
11-16-2008, 12:58 PM #19
ARFF, very interesting post, esp the bit about the cans at KMart flying around ! thanks.
For your possible intrique, one day I arrived at my building to be boggled at the fact that the entire (15,000 sq ft) building seemed to be "shaking" inside. I eventually realized it was the sprinkler pipes moving around and then got to thinking about a curious puddle of water I noticed out the corner of my eye far away in the parking lot.
So I went outside and as I approach the puddle to my dismay see a large hole in the asphalt with water pouring out !!! Turns out the water pipe for my buildings fire water system had broken underground close to the hydrant !
The water flow did set off a silent alarm and the country fire marshall arived within a few minutes and shut the system down. But the killer was he then realized due to where it broke he had to shut the system down for the entire industrial park !!!
Can't remember now what they did about that...either they found a valve they didn't know about at first or installed one somehow...so they got the system back on line for everyone else in a day or two....but me, I had to wait for weeks while it was replaired. All this due to some doofuses not installing the pipe correctly back in 1997.
Anyhoo the moral of this story is that yet another way a metal building with sprinklers could burn down would be if there was no water for the sprinklers !! Admitedly the chances of a fire happening during the one or two days out of all eternity one is without water is pretty slim
11-16-2008, 04:12 PM #20
A customer of mine had a brand new CNC plant in SC that had a small fire but all the CNC equipment was a total loss because of acid fumes from burning PVC pipe. It may be cheaper to install but there are unintended consequences!