Topic: Fire Protection Systems

With Home Fire Sprinkler Week fast approaching, now’s the time to brush up on the facts of this lifesaving technology

Home Fire Sprinkler Week (HFSW) approaching quickly, it is a good time to review some residential sprinkler myths that NFPA has debunked in the past. Last July, NFPA released an episode of The NFPA Podcast that addressed some of these home fire sprinkler myths with a former fire chief who retrofitted his home with sprinklers. Check out the episode, “Debunking Home Fire Sprinkler Myths,” on The NFPA Podcast here In addition to the podcast, NFPA ran a blog series in 2020 called Mythblaster Monday. This series tackled the myths surrounding home fire sprinklers, such as total water damage from sprinklers (which is much less than fire damage) and the importance of sprinklers even with the presence of smoke alarms. The Mythblaster Monday series, as well as other NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative (FSI) blogs, can be viewed here. Home Fire Sprinkler Week runs from May 16-22 this year, and marks 25 years since the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition was founded. A collaboration between the Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative, each day of the campaign NFPA will share blogs, resources, and related information to raise awareness of the life-saving benefits of home fire sprinklers. Read more about HFSW here. So brush up on the facts and please join NFPA in sharing valuable, life-saving information during Home Fire Sprinkler Week. For additional information, visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

Fire Extinguisher Placement Guide

In the hands of trained personnel, portable fire extinguishers are the first line of defense against incipient fires, but in order to be useful they need to be accessible. This blog tackles the topic of portable fire extinguisher placement, both how portable fire extinguishers should be distributed and exactly where they are allowed to be placed. The first step is to choose the correct extinguisher based on the fire risk. Extinguishers are broken down into the following ratings: Class A: Ordinary Combustibles Class B: Flammable Liquids Class C: Energized Electrical Equipment Class D: Combustible Metals Class K: Cooking Media The distribution of portable fire extinguishers is a balance between having an extinguisher nearby when you need it but not being overly burdened by the cost and maintenance of having excessive extinguishers. Let us start off with what NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers requires. When NFPA 10 addresses extinguisher placement it uses the term “maximum travel distance to extinguisher”. This means that at any point inside the building you should never have to travel more than the maximum distance to reach an extinguisher. It is important to ensure the distance being measured is the actual distance a person would need to walk to get the extinguisher (as shown in Figure 1) and that occupants are not expected to walk through walls. The maximum travel distance is often the limiting factor but for certain Class A extinguishers there is an additional floor area limitation. This maximum floor area that a single extinguisher can cover is directly related to the numerical A rating and level of hazard occupancy but reaches a maximum of 11,250 ft2. It is important to know both the maximum travel distance and floor area per extinguisher since you need to follow the most restrictive of the two. The following table, along with Table 6.2.1.1 and 6.3.1.1 of NFPA 10, will help you determine the required travel distance and maximum floor area. Let’s look at a specific example of a 6-A rated fire extinguisher in an ordinary hazard occupancy. The maximum floor area is calculated by multiplying the maximum floor area per unit of A by the numerical A rating, which gives us the following:   This means that although the maximum travel distance is permitted to be up to 75ft, if you were in a wide open area such as a large warehouse you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the entire 75ft travel distance because of the limitations that the 9,000ft2 maximum floor area would present. Check out the table below for a maximum floor area reference guide for Class A extinguishers. Let’s look at another example of an extinguisher with enough of an A-rating to have a 11,250 ft2 maximum floor area, one might think you could space the extinguishers every 150 ft since you would be 75ft from either extinguisher if you were in the middle, but because most rooms are rectangular this creates gaps where you would be further than 75 ft from an extinguishers (see sad faces in the figure below). Instead, portable fire extinguishers should be placed every 106 ft. to take advantage of the coverage area per extinguisher and conforming to the shape of most rooms (see Figure 4 below). This of course assumes that there are no dividing walls that would impede the path to an extinguisher. If Class A extinguishers are placed at the limit of their maximum travel distance then people might have to travel the entire 75 ft to get the extinguisher and then back another 75 ft to return to the fire in order to extinguish it. Let’s say the average person travels 3.5 mph, this means it would take them 30 seconds to travel the 150 ft it could take to grab the extinguisher and get back to the fire. A lot can happen in 30 seconds.   When distributing portable fire extinguishers an additional level of complexity is added when walls, obstructions and other structural features that limit movement are taken into consideration. Placement Extinguishers need to be located along normal paths of travel. This is because extinguishers should be available to occupants when evacuating. You do not want occupants to move away from an exit and risk being trapped by the fire when trying to retrieve an extinguisher. Extinguishers also need to be installed in places where they’re visible, but if an obstruction is unavoidable then there needs to be a sign provided to indicate the extinguisher’s location. Installation height Extinguishers need to be installed at least 4 inches off the ground up to a maximum of 5ft. The exception to this is for extinguishers heavier than 40 lbs, they can only be up to 3 ft 6 inches off the ground and wheeled fire extinguishers don’t need to be off the ground since the wheels already keep the cylinder from touching the floor. Cabinets & Hangers Extinguishers not on wheels are often installed on hangers or brackets, which need to be intended for the extinguisher, but they can also be installed in cabinets. Conclusion In my humble opinion portable fire extinguisher distribution and placement is the trickiest part of installation. There is a balance between efficiency and practicality that truly make a difference in the event of an emergency. I hope everyone found this helpful, let us know in the comments below what you think the toughest part of the job is. For more information check out our NFPA Portable Fire Extinguisher Fact Sheet. Annex E of NFPA 10 also has some more great information on fire extinguisher distribution if you want to learn more about the topic. Editor’s Note: I rounded to the nearest whole number for any calculations performed in this blog.

Restaurant Fire Protection Basics

As we emerge from the shutdowns and limitations due to COVID-19, many of us are likely looking forward to the day when our favorite restaurant will be able to operate at full capacity. Full tables, a packed bar area, people sitting in a waiting area, and a ton of activity in the kitchen will be good for local businesses and for people’s need for more in-person social interaction. As we look forward to those days, this blog offers an introduction to some of the basic concepts that are used for the protection of customers, employees, and the building itself.  For the purpose of this blog, we’ll be talking about dine-in restaurants with full kitchen capabilities that are assembly occupancies (defined as having an occupant load of 50 or more persons). NFPA statistics show that for eating and drinking establishments, the majority of fires occur in the kitchen and specifically involve cooking equipment. With that in mind, this blog will center around kitchen safety, but first let’s address some of the general fire safety provision that also apply to dining areas. General Requirements Egress The ability for patrons to evacuate the restaurant in the event of a fire must be adequately provided and maintained. For restaurants with an occupant load of 50 or more, which would classify them as an assembly occupancy, the main entrance must be sized to be able to accommodate at least one half of the total occupant load. Other exits must be provided to handle the additional capacity with the total number being based on layout and maintaining acceptable travel distances. Some common areas of concern regarding safe egress include the arrangement of chairs and tables cutting down on the available aisle accessways as well secondary exits being locked, blocked, or obstructed by storage. Fire Alarm Whether or not a fire alarm system is required can come down to many variables but if it is a standalone building it is only required to be provided with a fire alarm system where the occupant load is greater than 300. Where  required, the system will need to be initiated by one of or a combination of manual operation (pull stations), automatic detection, or sprinkler system waterflow.  Notification of the occupants is required to be a voice announcement and include visible signals. Sprinkler Protection Sprinklers have not traditionally been required for all restaurants. Beginning with the 2021 edition of NFPA 101 Life Safety Code®, restaurants that are assembly occupancies of new construction will require sprinkler protection. Like fire alarms, a lot of variables can play into the need for sprinkler protection, including construction type, height, other uses of the building, and more. Where considering a standalone building used only as a restaurant its classification as an assembly occupancy does not require sprinkler protection for any existing construction unless it can also be considered a nightclub, dance hall, or discotheque in which case they are required for occupant loads over 100. Kitchen Fire Protection Wet-chemical extinguishing system As referenced earlier, the majority of fires in restaurants are caused by cooking equipment. For this reason, any cooking equipment used in processes that produce grease-laden vapors must be provided with ventilation and a fire extinguishing system. The fire extinguishing systems must be listed to UL 300 or equivalent standards which is currently only achieved by wet chemical extinguishing systems. The wet chemical is able to separate the oil and air for a sufficient amount of time to allow complete cooling. These systems are most commonly activated automatically through the use of fusible links that are in the exhaust airflow and have a manual release that can also be used by staff in the area. The manual release should be located in the path of egress from the space to allow for safe use.  Some common issues with the fixed extinguishing systems include the caps on discharge nozzles being taken off for day-to-day use. These caps prevent grease from getting into and clogging the nozzles and are designed to blow off when the system activates. The rearrangement or replacement of cooking equipment can also be problematic as the systems are specifically designed for the original equipment, changing these out without analyzing the system could result in a failure to extinguish a fire. Class-K Fire Extinguisher While the fixed extinguishing system is intended to be the primary means of extinguishment, at least one portable fire extinguisher is also required to be provided in the kitchen area. Extinguishers in kitchens need to be Class K to be appropriate for use on the cooking medium. Signage is required at the extinguisher in the form of a placard that is conspicuously placed near each Class K extinguisher that states that the fire protection system must be activated prior to using the fire extinguisher. Inspection and Maintenance Routine inspection and maintenance of cooking equipment, the hood and exhaust systems, and fire extinguishing equipment (including fire extinguishers) are vital to ensuring that protection is maintained consistently for the restaurant. In addition, instructions need to be provided to new employees on hiring and to all employees annually on the use of portable fire extinguishers and the manual actuation of the fire-extinguishing system. Hoods need to be inspected for grease buildup at a frequency that is typically semi-annually for most restaurants but can be more or less frequent, depending on the type and volume of cooking. When that inspection finds grease buildup the hood and exhaust system must be cleaned. NFPA 96 Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, 2021 2021 The fire extinguishing systems must be maintained at least every 6 months and all actuation and control components, including remote manual pull stations, mechanical and electrical devices, detectors, and actuators, must be tested for proper operation. Fusible links of the metal alloy type and automatic sprinklers of the metal alloy type must also be replaced at this interval. Summary This is meant to be a high level overview of some of the major fire protection and life concepts for restaurants. There are many more details on each of the items covered in this blog and there are others that were not included here but still must be provided for a full compliant arrangement. NFPA 96 Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, is a great place to start to find more information. NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, NFPA 101, and the locally adopted building code should all be referenced for a full understanding of the requirements. I hope this was helpful as an overview. If you have any questions or would like to see a more in-depth discussion on any of the items covered, please let me know in the comments.
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