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Hot tips as fire protection moves up the agenda

With the regulations behind fire protection systems becoming ever more stringent, there really is very little margin for error when it comes to pipe specification, says Simon Spridgeon
Building regulations are becoming ever more stringent regarding fire safety, and for good reason.

The latest National Statistics on fires attended by the Fire and Rescue Services in England, produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, reveal that between April 2010 and March 2011 the fire department attended a total of 227,000 fires, 36,000 of which were in dwellings and 21,000 in 'other buildings' including commercial premises. As a consequence of these there were a tragic 321 fire fatalities. It goes without saying that the aim of placing so much emphasis on the importance of fitting fire protection systems in commercial and domestic buildings is to reduce these numbers, but only by ensuring that the systems in place are adequate will this be achieved.

Fire safety is, pardon the pun, currently a burning issue for any contractors and specifying suitable fire protection systems should always be a major consideration. Correctly specifying and installing fire resisting systems and fire protection products is fundamental to fire safety, particularly in public buildings.

Life and death
After all, installing the right fire protection system could potentially mean the difference between life and death, so it is crucial that specifiers understand the different options - particularly the pipework materials.

These systems and products generally form part of the fabric of a building and are vital as they maintain a means of escape and contain the fire in the room of origin. They limit the spread of fire from one area to another, reducing loss and increasing the safety of building occupants and fire fighters.

Therefore it is important that these products are manufactured and installed to the same quality as when originally tested. The Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) third party certification schemes for manufacturers and for installers provide assurance that the products and systems manufactured and installed will provide the fire protection required when called upon. Opting for anything less is taking a gamble that the system will be up to the job when needed.

Even in countries where fire protection systems are fitted more regularly, one of the major issues in this field is that, once fitted, the landlord or maintenance contractor may not recognise or understand the importance of regularly servicing the system. Just like a boiler, the system should be regularly inspected by a professional to ensure that it will work perfectly, should it ever be needed.

One of the biggest factors to impact on fire protection systems is corrosion of the pipework, according to a survey carried out by VdS in Germany and this, the survey found, was due to lack of routine maintenance. This is a particular problem because unfortunately it is often not spotted until the system is called into action and fails - and this is, of course, the time when it is needed most.

Corrosion in fire protection pipework occurs when the system is not properly maintained and can cause a failure of the entire system as the sprinkler heads become blocked and ineffectual. Because this is usually only spotted when a fire has broken out, the consequences can be potentially lethal, which is why it is paramount to consider the implications of corrosion and the materials chosen for fire protection systems from the outset.

Stainless steel offers the highest resistance to corrosion and therefore peace of mind to the installer that the potential for lethal problems further down the line is eliminated. However carbon steel that is zinc plated using the Sendzimir method of galvanization is another highly corrosion resistant material and therefore particularly suitable for fire protection system applications.

By rolling the zinc layer onto the steel in a continuous line during the milling process, the Sendzimir system is proven to be the most effective at preventing corrosion, compared to batch or electro-galvanizing, as it produces a smooth, high density zinc layer, free of microscopic gaps and cavities for improved anti-corrosion properties. In this way the steel pipework is protected from corrosion even over long periods of time, making this, along with stainless steel, the ideal material for use in fire protection systems on both commercial and domestic projects.

Specifying pipework from a trusted brand which carries the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) seal of approval is the very best way to ensure that the fire protection system in place has been subjected to the appropriate manufacturing tests, so it won't compromise on safety if and when it is called into action.

The good news is that the LPCB has now approved a press-fit system for use in fire protection systems. This method of installation not only cuts down on the time it takes to fit such systems quite significantly by making the whole job a lot easier, but it also provides extra reassurance of the system's safety and reliability once installed, as it is easy to check for leaks.

With pressfitting systems like ours all the fittings are designed so that any connections left unpressed during installation are automatically detectable during testing, with a visible leak path which provides the installer with a fail-safe method of checking for and fixing un-pressed joints, even before the final pressure test.

When it comes to fire protection systems there can be no compromises, as the consequences of a system failing when it is put into action simply don't bear thinking about, so specifying the correct system and installing it properly so that it can always be relied upon is paramount.

// The author is Geberit's senior product manager //
1 February 2012

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