Fire pumps are essential components of a building's fire protection system, especially in high-rise structures. In buildings with levels from 400-500 ft. and higher, fire pumps are critical in distributing water through sprinkler systems where water pressure from water mains and fire fighting equipment cannot reach.
Even in lower set buildings, a fire pump is key to containing a fire. Firefighting, at its best, is a hazardous business, but without a well-designed and professionally installed system and pump it becomes even more dangerous, and business assets and lives are put at greater risk.
How Does a Fire Pump Work?
A fire pump is an integral part of a fire sprinkler system, as it provides high-pressure water accessibility to the fire sprinkler system, increasing the flow rate of the water.
To understand how a fire pump works, it’s important to understand what a fire pump is. A fire pump is more than just it’s namesake - a pump - which is an integral part of the system, but the full system is made up of the motor - or driver - and the controller. As part of a fire sprinkler system, a fire pump receives water from either an underground water supply or a water tank, lake, or reservoir, and is powered by electricity or diesel fuel. The high-pressure supplied by the pump distributes water through the sprinkler system and hose standpipes.
Customary types of fire pumps include the horizontal split case, vertical split case, vertical in-line, and vertical turbine.
The most common type of fire pump is the horizontal split case. These pumps are most economical for higher flow applications and are easily accessible for repairs or maintenance. Their long lifespans and size availability make them even more popular.
Vertical split case fire pumps are very similar to horizontal split case fire pumps except that they take up less space due to their vertical design, which also protects the pump from potential flooding damage.
The vertical in-line pump is a single-stage centrifugal pump designed, as the name implies, for vertical installation. With suction and delivery inline with each other, this pump provides a smooth flow of water throughout the system, and is ideal for small spaces. The design does require the pump to be removed for any repairs or maintenance.
The vertical turbine is a centrifugal pump designed for fire pump services where the water source is located below ground. This fire pump comes in varying types such as oil-lubricated enclosed-line-shaft and water-lubricated open-line-shaft pumps. Both types are designed for installation in drilled wells, lakes, streams, open swamps, and other subsurface sources.
Deciding which pump is appropriate for any given facility should be discussed with the design engineer, a fire safety professional, and the Local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
Installing and Maintaining Fire Pumps
As with the decision on what pump and system to use, the installation and maintenance of any fire system should be handled by fire safety professionals. There are many considerations as per the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Building Code (IBC), which are updated from time to time.
Though weekly inspections may be done by trained personnel on-site, monthly, annual, and further inspections and maintenance should be performed by qualified personnel including factory-trained and certified personnel, personnel certified by a national recognized fire protection organization, or personnel who are registered, licensed, or certified by a state or local authority.
Fire Pumps in Your Building
A fire pump is critical fire and life-safety equipment in many buildings. There are numerous requirements and elements to be considered prior to the installation of any unit. The building owner, architect, engineer, local fire marshal, and the fire protection provider should all participate in the discussion for the pump and system to ensure a well-planned and compliant final installation.