The Building Owner’s Guide to Fire Sprinkler & Fire Pump Systems

A professionally tested fire sprinkler system acts as the backbone to every successful fire protection plan.

Make sure you're prepared to equip your building with the right system.

For commercial buildings, a professionally tested fire sprinkler system acts as the backbone to every successful fire protection plan. Fire pumps play an integral role in commercial sprinkler systems as they provide the needed water pressure to ensure the hydraulic design requirements of the sprinkler system are met. Fire pumps work in tandem with fire sprinkler systems to protect people, buildings, and assets in case of a fire emergency.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there have been over 100,000 reported fires, 85 deaths, 1,025 injuries, and an alarming 2.6 billion dollar loss nationwide due to fire damage in 2018 which illustrates a 90% increase from 2009. 

The statistics have made it clear that building owners should partner with fire and life safety professionals to ensure that their sprinkler system and fire pumps are operational and capable of keeping their building safe. A fully fortified fire and life safety system will help mitigate the potential financial liabilities that come with an untested and overlooked fire protection system.  

With a comprehensive foundation of the most common fire sprinkler and fire pump types and the use cases for each, building owners and managers can begin to understand the important role these components play and why it is necessary to implement them into their overall fire and life safety protection plan. 

In this guide, you will learn

  • How sprinkler and fire pump systems fit into a building's complete fire protection system
  • Why every building needs a unique sprinkler and fire pump system
  • How to determine which fire sprinkler system is right for your building
  • When to inspect and test fire sprinkler and fire pump systems to stay in compliance
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What are Fire Pumps and Fire Sprinkler Systems?

A well maintained and functioning fire sprinkler system fortified with the appropriate fire pumps are an integral part of a business’s overall fire and life safety plan.

 In order to understand how fire sprinkler systems and fire pumps integrate to form a complete fire and life safety strategy, building owners first need a comprehensive understanding of these individual components. 

Fire Sprinkler System

A fire sprinkler system is a preventative fire suppression device that uses a group of sprinklers that release water to control and extinguish fires. Sprinkler heads are installed by square footage depending on the hazard and are installed mostly at ceiling level but also are commonly installed on walls (sidewall sprinkler head). The other end of the sprinkler system is connected to a number of pipes and a high-pressure water supply. These systems are activated by the rise of heated air molecules. Fire sprinkler systems commonly consist of components such as ON/OFF valves, alarm check valves, gauges, water-flow switches, valve tamper switches, sprinkler heads, and alarm test valves.

Fire Pump System

Fire pumps are installed when available water supply is not capable of meeting the hydraulic demand required to properly protect from the hazard regardless of the building size. Fire pumps provide high-pressure water accessibility and increase the overall flow rate of the water. This fire and life safety device is commonly used in conjunction with sprinkler systems in high rise buildings, as well as for warehouses that contain high hazard storage. Businesses should install a fire pump in a separate building to afford the greatest protection from fire, and to provide firefighters easy access to the pump and its controls.

Fire pumps are essential components of a building's fire protection system.

Fire pumps are essential components of a building's fire protection system.

Learn more about how fire pumps work, plus the installation and maintenance schedules. Learn More →

The Importance of Fire Sprinkler and Fire Pump Systems

For many commercial building owners, a fire pump is a crucial component of their overall fire and life safety protection plan. Fire pumps provide fire sprinkler systems with an extra boost of water pressure to ensure the system is receiving the required amount of water to thoroughly douse fires and prevent reignition. This is necessary when the fire sprinkler system is connected to a non-pressurized water tank or when the water supply feeding the sprinkler system has inadequate water pressure. 

Jockey pumps play an integral role in preventing damage to the overall fire sprinkler system by mitigating the potential damages caused by a sudden pressure change. The purpose of the jockey pump is to keep the water pressure in the pipes within a specific range when there’s not a fire, so that the sprinklers won’t go off randomly causing unnecessary water damage. 

In addition to fire pumps, building owners cannot overlook the importance of having a tested, maintained, and properly functioning fire sprinkler system. These automatic systems often act as the first line of defense if a fire does break out, and can be the difference between early detection and prevention and a failed containment plan. A well-maintained fire sprinkler system can suppress smoke and flames to reduce the rate of fire dispersion and provide building occupants potentially life saving time to exit the building safely.  

Businesses that proactively implement a fire sprinkler and fire pump system that is installed, inspected, and maintained by trained fire and life safety technicians will reduce maintenance costs, avoid fines and penalties from non-compliance, receive insurance discounts, and have further opportunities to identify and address vulnerabilities. However, the ultimate reason to have a cohesive fire sprinkler and pump system is the protection of human life.  

How Fire Sprinklers and Fire Pumps Operate to Form a Complete Fire Protection System

Some fire sprinklers will need a fire pump to be effective, as the system may have additional water pressure requirements. When fire sprinklers require a fire pump, the fire pump becomes the beating heart of the fire sprinkler system, acting as the vessel that pumps needed resources to the rest of the system. For a body to work properly, it needs a functioning heart and the same goes for fire sprinkler systems. Without a properly functioning and tested fire pump, this fire suppression method would be ineffective. 

So what does this fortified system look like in action? Here is an outline of how a fire sprinkler system that requires a fire pump works together to form a complete fire protection system that keeps your facility, employees, and assets safe. 

Step 1: Fire Sprinklers Detect Heat

Fire sprinklers are triggered not by smoke but rather, high heat. An increase in air temperature caused by a fire will trigger a chain reaction starting with the sprinkler head. Most sprinkler heads feature a glass bulb filled with a glycerin-based liquid that will expand when it comes into contact with air heated between 135 and 165⁰ F. The expanding liquid will shatter its glass casing and activate the sprinkler heads. 

Step 2: Fire Sprinklers Release Water 

Once the sprinkler head is activated, a valve will open allowing for water to flow out. If the fire sprinkler system is a dry pipe system, a valve will first release pressurized air or nitrogen and then release water. The water is released from a pipe that connects to a reliable water source outside the building. 

Step 3: Pressurized Water is Distributed through Fire Pump

When sprinkler heads open to release water, the water pressure in the pipes drop since water is flowing out. Fire pumps are used to distribute pressurized water throughout the fire sprinkler system to ensure the fire sprinkler system has enough water to effectively combat the fire. Fire pumps receive water from either an underground water supply or a water tank, lake, or reservoir, and are powered by electricity or diesel fuel.

Step 4: Fire Sprinklers Minimize Water Damage

Fire sprinkler systems are composed of individually functioning sprinkler heads. This functionality allows water damage to be confided to only the area in which the fire started. 

Finding the Best Fire Protection System for your Building

When deciding which fire sprinkler and fire pump system is best for your unique fire protection needs, it is imperative to have a comprehensive knowledge base of the different types of fire sprinkler and fire pump systems, and the common use cases for each. Building owners that are readily equipped with this information will be better suited to have a knowledgeable conversation with their fire and life safety systems provider.

Types of Fire Sprinkler Systems

Each fire sprinkler is molded to meet the needs of varying facilities to maximize response time and ensure protection of the building, employees, and business assets. Here is a breakdown of the four most common types of commercial fire sprinkler systems.

Wet Pipe Sprinkler System

Also referred to as traditional fire sprinklers, wet pipe sprinkler systems are activated through heat and release pressurized water through pipes connected to individual sprinkler heads. Each sprinkler head is independent of one another, which reduces the overall water damage to the building when the system is activated. Wet pipe systems are an attractive fire protection option due to their inexpensive, low-maintenance requirements. However, wet pipe systems are not designed and optimized for all environments. For example, since the pipes in a wet pipe system are always filled with water, this system will not work in environments that fall below 40⁰ F because the water can freeze in the pipes. Businesses should also keep in mind that this fire protection system is not ideal for spaces housing sensitive equipment that is susceptible to water damage.

Types of buildings that commonly use this fire sprinkler system are:

  • Commercial properties
  • Offices
  • Schools
  • High-rises

Dry Pipe Sprinkler System

Instead of having water flow to the sprinkler heads like in a wet pipe sprinkler system, a dry pipe sprinkler system has pipes filled with pressurized air or nitrogen that holds back the water. The heated air from a fire will activate a sprinkler head releasing pressurized air. The pressurized air allows the water to force the clapper open, filling all piping with water. The elimination of water in the piping makes this sprinkler system ideal for environments where temperatures drop below 40⁰ F. Businesses should consider the higher installation and maintenance costs associated with this type of sprinkler system when deciding which fire sprinkler system is best for their building.

Types of buildings that commonly use this fire sprinkler system are:

  • Unheated buildings
  • Parking garages
  • Warehouses
  • Attic spaces

Pre-Action Sprinkler System

Similar to dry-pipe sprinkler systems, pre-action sprinklers use pressurized air or nitrogen instead of water in the pipes. Pre-action fire sprinklers require a two-step activation where a pre-action valve releases water in the event of fire detection and then individual water heads are activated. This allows facilities to shut off the sprinkler system in case of a false alarm. Pre-action sprinkler systems are often used in areas with large quantities of electronic equipment or areas that are more susceptible to water damage such as server rooms and data centers. Here is a breakdown of the three variations of pre-action systems.

Non-Interlocked Pre-Action System

This type of fire sprinkler system can be activated through either the supplemental detection system or the opening of a single sprinkler head. The occurrence of either one of these events will initiate water flow through the piping system.

Single Interlocked Pre-Action System

This type of fire sprinkler system has one event that must occur before water can run through the piping. Once fire is detected from a heat or smoke detector, a pre-action valve will open. However, water will not discharge from the system until the fire has generated a sufficient quantity of heat to cause operation of one or more sprinklers. The pre-action valve is dependent on a supplemental fire detection system and is only released once this additional system is activated. The pressure in the piping system is constantly monitored to gauge the systems operating integrity and a sound will alarm if pressure drops to an unsustainable level.

Double Interlocked Pre-Action System

This type of fire sprinkler system has two events that must occur before water can run through the piping, both the supplemental detection system and the sprinklers on the system must be in operation. Once these events occur, the pre-action valve is released allowing water to flow through the piping. Double interlocked pre-action systems are commonly found in freezer facilities to help prevent damage to the piping system caused by accidental valve operation.

Types of buildings that commonly use this fire sprinkler system are:

  • Museums
  • Libraries
  • Data farms
Protecting valuable or fragile equipment?

Protecting valuable or fragile equipment?

Learn more about which fire protection system is best for server rooms and data centers. Learn More →

Deluge Sprinkler System

Also referred to as open sprinkler systems, deluge sprinkler systems are used to deliver large quantities of water over a defined area in a short period of time. The deluge valve controls the sprinkler system by allowing water to enter the pipes only once a secondary fire detection system is activated. The sprinkler system is able to protect large areas and respond quickly due to the capability to use atmospheric pressure to immediately discharge water once it reaches each sprinkler in the system. Businesses should consider a deluge sprinkler system if their building environment contains highly combustible materials, flammable liquids, or thermal damage vulnerabilities.

Types of buildings that commonly use this fire sprinkler system are:

  • Industrial plants
  • Aircraft hangers
  • Manufacturing facilities

Types of Fire Pumps

While fire pumps take on an extra degree of importance for high rise buildings (a building with levels from 400-500 ft.), fire pumps are key components in every building owner’s fire protection plan. Firefighting often boils down to the effectiveness of a building’s containment strategy and a well-designed and professionally installed fire pump will bolster the building’s capability to swiftly extinguish the threat while minimizing water damage.

There are two calculations building owner’s need to be aware of when choosing the right fire pump for their unique building parameters. A fire safety company will determine which fire and life safety system best fits a building’s pressure requirements by calculating the gallons per minute (GPM) and pounds per square inch (PSI) requirements for their piping system. This will create a better foundation for determining the type of fire pump that works best for their building. While these calculations provide a roadmap for building owners, deciding which pump is appropriate for any given facility should still be discussed with the design engineer, a fire safety professional, and the Local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Here is a breakdown of the five most frequently used fire pumps and common use cases for each.

Horizontal Split Case

The most common type of fire pump is the horizontal split case primarily due to their economical price and higher water flow applications. This fire pump is easily accessible making repairs and maintenance frictionless and their product lifespan longer. The increased durability and size availability makes this type of fire pump even more attractive to building owners.

Common use cases for this pump:

  • Businesses with small fire protection budget
  • Buildings with a GPM of 750+

Vertical Split Case

The vertical split case fire pump takes up less space due to their vertical design. The vertical design also acts as a safeguard protecting against potential flood damage. This type of pump is a best fit for buildings that have limited available space.

Common use cases for this pump:

  • Buildings susceptible to flooding
  • Buildings with space limitations

Vertical In-line

The vertical in-line fire pump is a single-stage centrifugal pump designed for vertical installation. This pump’s defining feature is the ability to provide a smooth flow of water throughout the system due to the suction and delivery being inline with each other. The vertical design of this fire pump makes it an ideal fire pump option for building owners who are constrained by smaller spaces.

Common use cases for this pump:

  • Buildings susceptible to flooding
  • Small office buildings
  • Data farms and power stations

Vertical Turbine

The vertical turbine is a centrifugal fire pump designed to distribute water from an underground water source. Vertical turbine pumps have several variations such as oil-lubricated enclosed-line-shaft and water-lubricated open-line-shaft pumps. Both of these types of vertical turbine pumps are commonly used.

Common use cases for this pump:

  • Municipalities
  • Industrial applications where high head pumps are required
  • Chemical and mining operations

Jockey Pump

Also referred to as a pressure maintenance pump, the jockey pump is a secondary maintenance pump that assists in maintaining the pressure in the fire sprinkler system to avoid non-emergency starting of the main fire pump. This pump is designed to activate before the main fire pump to help the system return to its minimum pressure level.

Applications requiring this pump:

  • Commercial, municipal, and residential high-rise buildings
  • Large industrial premises
  • Offshore and remote facilities
  • Power stations

Proper Fire Sprinkler and Fire Pump Inspection & Maintenance Schedules

According to the National Fire Protection Association's NFPA 25, fire sprinklers and fire pump systems must be installed by qualified, nationally certified, and professionally licenced fire and life safety technicians due to the important role fire sprinkler systems and fire pumps play in every building owner’s fire and life safety system. Without a well-designed, and professionally installed, and regularly inspected and maintained fire and life safety system, building owners and managers create a dangerous work environment that puts business assets and lives at greater risk.

To avoid these outcomes, building owners should partner with a fire protection company that can provide superior preventative maintenance and emergency services. By partnering with trusted fire and life safety technicians, building owners can be confident that their unique fire protection systems are functioning properly and prepared to effectively protect facilities, employees, and their bottom line from unnecessary code violations, fines, and emergency situations. 

Fire Sprinkler System Inspection and Maintenance Recommendations

Conducting standard fire sprinkler maintenance and inspection is the only way to catch operational issues before they prevent the fire sprinkler system from properly operating in the event of an emergency. Building owners and managers should adhere to this inspection and maintenance schedule to avoid code violations, costly fines, unnecessary maintenance fees, or worse, entire system replacements.

Weekly/Monthly

A vital component of a fire sprinkler system are the gauges, and therefore they need to be inspected monthly. Gauges in dry pipe, pre-action, and deluge sprinkler systems need to be inspected as often as once a week to ensure functionality. Wet pipe gauges can go a month without needing another inspection.

Quarterly

Building owners will have more extensive inspections carried out on a quarterly basis (once every three months) to inspect water flow devices, valve alarm devices, control valves, signal devices, hydraulic nameplates, and fire department connections. It is recommended to run a physical test on all fire sprinkler mechanical devices on a quarterly basis.

Semi-Annually

Fire sprinkler components such as vane and pressure switch type devices should be tested every six months

Annually 

Annual fire sprinkler inspections look at the pipework and fittings, hangar/seismic bracing, signage, and the fire sprinkler system themselves. In terms of testing, every year a fire safety provider should run a complete test of their fire sprinkler system. Professional technicians will physically test every element of the system including water flow and alarm tests.

Every Five Years

Building owners should adhere to the recommendation to thoroughly inspect all the internal piping related to the sprinkler system every five years. This inspection will identify any blockages and areas for service. In terms of testing, it is advised to run precautionary tests on fire sprinkler systems exposed to high temperatures or harsh conditions every five years. Fire protection professionals should also test or replace gauges as needed.

Every 10 Years

In terms of testing, dry pipe fire sprinklers should be tested or replaced after 10 years. Fast-response sprinkler systems should be tested after 20 years, and then at subsequent 10-year intervals. Standard sprinkler systems only need to be tested after 50 years, and then at 10-year intervals after that.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOUR FIRE SPRINKLERS BE TESTED AND INSPECTED?

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOUR FIRE SPRINKLERS BE TESTED AND INSPECTED?

With sprinklers forming such a vital part of your fire safety plan, it’s essential to get them regularly inspected and tested to make sure they are performing optimally. Learn More →

Fire Pump Inspection and Maintenance Recommendations

Similar to the overall fire sprinkler system, the fire pump also needs to be consistently and regularly inspected and tested to maintain functionality and keep facilities, employees, visitors, and business assets safe and secure. Building owners who partner with a trusted fire and life safety service provider can ensure facilities are compliant to all applicable fire codes and regulations.  

Weekly

Several fire pump components need to be inspected at a weekly interval to ensure functionality. These components include the pump house, pump system, pump operation including both diesel and electrical systems, and steam system conditions. The pump operation test should also be conducted at this juncture.  

Monthly

At the monthly interval, building owners should have inspections and tests performed to examine the pump operation. 

Annually

Fire protection professionals will conduct a thorough inspection of all pump equipment every year. In terms of testing, a full flow test including diesel and electrical systems, and a fire pump alarm signal test should be conducted annually. 

Every Five Years

Internal pump inspections should be conducted per manufacturer recommendations at a five-year interval. 

Choosing the Right Fire Sprinkler and Fire Pump System for Your Building

As a building owner, it is no longer acceptable to sit on the sidelines when it comes to their building’s fire and life safety systems. Building owners that understand the various sprinkler systems and fire pump types can begin narrowing in on which system is best suited for their building's unique fire protection challenges. A smart building owner should have a comprehensive understanding of the building’s fire codes and regulations so they can take the necessary steps to partner with a fire and life safety service provider to ensure inspection and maintenance schedules are followed. 

While having a knowledge base can differentiate a passive building owner from a savvy one, it is still never advisable to tackle this complex, highly important fire and life safety challenge alone. The building owner, architect, engineer, local fire marshal, and the fire protection provider should all participate in the discussion for choosing the fire sprinkler and fire pump system that best fits your building's fire protection needs to ensure consistent inspection and maintenance and a fire code compliant final installation.

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