Fire Sprinkler System Maintenance: Who Takes Care of the Fire Pump Engine?
Most of us know fire sprinklers as the little metal discs with red tongues that hang above our heads in offices and public buildings, waiting to rain down water from above in the event of a fire.
Since 2006, fire sprinkler systems have been required for new commercial buildings over 5,000 square feet. Because of the protection they provide in case of a fire, many older buildings have retrofitted sprinkler systems as well.
If you own or manage any large commercial buildings like offices or apartments, chances are you have a fire sprinkler system you need to maintain, but understanding precisely how it all works can get a little complicated.
For example, what is the difference between a fire sprinkler system, a fire pump, and a fire pump engine? Are they all just different words for the same thing?
Adding to the confusion is the fact that you probably have multiple service providers who do work on different aspects of the overall system. Do you really need them all?
Here’s everything you need to know about maintaining sprinklers, fire pumps, and engines—how they work, how to stay compliant, and which service providers do what.
What Your Fire Sprinkler System Service Provider Does
Fire sprinkler systems are installed by specialized providers who make sure your system meets the needs of your building and is up to code. They then provide the ongoing maintenance needed to keep your system ready for an emergency and compliant with NFPA 25, the standards published by the National Fire Prevention Association that govern sprinkler systems.
A fire sprinkler system service provider will maintain every part of your systems besides the engine besides the fire pump engine. Since engine maintenance requires different expertise, the fire pump engine is serviced by an engine specialist like a generator service provider.
What Your Generator Service Provider Does
Your fire sprinkler system service provider is responsible for the fire pump and the rest of the system, but a generator service provider like Electro-Motion takes care of the engine that drives the pump. As engine experts, we maintain not just your generator, but the fire pump engine that powers your sprinkler system as well.
Some businesses get confused about why they have two different service providers working on “fire pumps,” and ask to have the service removed. The reality is that while your sprinkler company maintains your sprinkler system, you need your generator service provider to maintain the engine and transfer switch that will keep it running even if the power goes out.
The Importance of Sprinkler Systems for Fire Safety
All of this might have you wondering how important a sprinkler system actually is. Will it really keep your building from burning down if a big fire gets started?
Not necessarily—but while it won’t always stop a fire on its own, a sprinkler system does several critical things.
First, it makes it easier and safer for occupants to exit the building and for firefighters to extinguish any fire that remains. In some cases, a sprinkler system could be the difference between everyone getting out safely and someone getting stuck inside.
Second, sprinklers reduce loss and property damage due to the fire. With a sprinkler system, a fire may be effectively contained to just one part of the building, rather than burning everything down.
Finally, fire suppression systems reduce your liability in the event of a fire. Sprinkler systems are considered “a reasonable level of care”, meaning a building owner could pay over $1 million per life that is lost in the fire if they haven’t installed a sprinkler system or didn’t properly maintain it.
For all these reasons, it’s critical to keep your sprinkler system in good working order—and that includes the fire pump engine.
Parts of a Fire Sprinkler System
Water-based fire protection systems have a few different key parts, which can create some confusion. Here’s what each one does.
The sprinkler heads are what you see on the ceiling of your building. They are designed to activate when exposed to high temperatures.
An extensive network of pipes is needed to feed water to all the sprinkler heads spread around your building. The pipes need to be kept sealed, unobstructed, and leak-free.
Gauges, valves, and alarms
The system contains a variety of gauges, valves and alarms that all work together to activate the sprinklers and keep water flowing when there is a fire.
Most buildings don’t have a water supply with enough pressure to effectively feed a fire sprinkler system, so you need a fire pump that can take water from the building’s supply and pressurize it before it’s fed into the sprinkler system.
The fire pump is so important that the National Fire Protection Association has an entire code dedicated to how to install it, NFPA 20.
Fire pump engine
The fire pump engine is often confused with the fire pump itself, but in reality it’s a completely separate part that powers the fire pump.
There are two types of fire pump engines, electric and diesel. Diesel fire pump engines are activated when the sprinklers turn on. Electric engines, on the other hand, have an automated transfer switch that connects them to the building’s generator if the power goes out. This transfer switch needs to be regularly serviced to ensure that it will work in an emergency.
Maintaining Your Fire Sprinkler System
The exact code you have to follow to maintain your fire suppression system will depend on the jurisdiction you live in, but all codes are based on the National Fire Protection Association’s code NFPA 25, which sets national standards for the inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems.
Local authorities (usually your fire marshall) will periodically inspect your system to ensure that you’re compliant.
Inspections, testing, and maintenance
NFPA 25 specifies three different types of actions you’ll need to take to keep your sprinkler system up to code—inspection, testing, and maintenance.
Inspection usually refers to a visual inspection of a particular part to make sure it appears to be in good working order. For example, you might inspect sprinkler heads by checking for damage or obstructions, or inspect gauges by confirming that the readings are within normal ranges.
Testing involves actually using something to make sure it works. For example, NFPA 25 requires you to test the fire pump weekly by turning it on.
Finally, maintenance involves work replacing and repairing old or damaged parts.
For more detail on exactly what you’ll need to do to maintain your sprinkler system, check out this example of an NFPA-compliant maintenance plan.
Weekly inspection and testing like the fire pump can usually be done by in-house maintenance, while more complex quarterly or annual testing and maintenance is best left to specialized service providers—your sprinkler company for the sprinkler system, and your generator service provider for the fire pump engine and backup power system.
You can learn more about generator maintenance and NFPA 110 here.
At Electro-Motion, we have 50 years of experience designing custom maintenance plans for any backup power system, on just about any budget. We don’t maintain our client’s fire sprinkler systems, but we do maintain their fire pump engines and generators.
All our maintenance is performed by EGSA-certified technicians with a minimum of 100 hours of safety and skills training per year, and we are available 24/7, with a maximum two-hour response time for emergencies.
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