Accidental Fire Sprinkler Activation Common Causes

Fire sprinklers are considered one of the most effective methods for preventing fire and saving lives in commercial buildings. However, as with any piece of equipment, fire sprinklers can also fail under certain circumstances.

When a failure occurs, it's typically an accidental fire sprinkler activation. If you're unfamiliar with the term, accidental fire sprinkler activation is when the device triggers when it isn't supposed to or during a situation that doesn't involve fire.

Although these instances are rare and not something you need to worry about, it's still important to understand what can cause them so you can prevent them from occurring. 

Equipment Malfunctions

When a fire sprinkler malfunctions, it can cause water to spray out at a much higher pressure than would be needed for fire suppression. Malfunctions often result from an overpressure situation, but other causes of equipment failure can also lead to accidental fire sprinkler activation.

One of the most common types of equipment malfunction happens when the pressure of the water inside a sprinkler exceeds that of the atmosphere outside the sprinkler head. This malfunction happens when the water inside the sprinkler system freezes and expands. As it expands, it puts pressure on the system, which can cause an overpressure situation.

Incorrect Installation

Another reason accidental fire sprinkler activation can occur is when the system isn't hooked up correctly. This can happen when new equipment is installed, or someone accidentally removes the wrong part of an old system.

For example, if the wrong type of sprinkler heads are installed, they can be sensitive enough to go off at a low temperature. This trigger would cause an accidental activation.

Another example of incorrect installation occurs when a fire alarm system that isn't compatible with the sprinkler system is installed. If someone accidentally installs a fire alarm that is supposed to be connected to a different type of sprinkler system, the two systems could end up interfering. If this happens, the sprinkler system could mistakenly activate.

Bad or Old Sprinkler Heads

Another reason accidental fire sprinkler activation can occur is defective sprinkler heads. If a sprinkler head is old or has been exposed to a lot of heat, it could be considered defective.

When a defective sprinkler head is activated, it could be sensitive enough to go off at a much lower temperature than it should. This trigger would cause an accidental activation of the sprinkler system.

If a sprinkler head has been exposed to a lot of heat, it could be considered unusable. But even new sprinkler heads that appear to work fine can fail for other reasons, such as incorrect installation.

Mechanical Failure

Another common cause of accidental fire sprinkler activation is mechanical failure. Mechanical failure can occur in various ways, such as when a sprinkler pump doesn't work correctly or when a sprinkler controller malfunctions. This malfunction can cause the sprinkler system to go off even though there isn't a fire.

A false alarm could occur if the sprinkler pump isn't working correctly and isn't providing enough water or working too quickly. If, for example, the water is being pumped through the system too quickly, it could cause the system to trip.

If a sprinkler controller malfunctions, the system could be triggered for an excessively long period of time. This trigger could also cause a false alarm.

Excessive Dust and Dirt

Dust and dirt can be a problem for any sprinkler and cause accidental fire sprinkler activation. Dust and dirt can travel through the sprinkler system, collect in the valve, and eventually build up to the point where the sprinkler cannot shut off. When this happens, the sprinkler goes off and continues to go off. 

If the problem is missed, it can cause multiple false alarms and eventually damage the sprinkler system. To avoid this, you can look at ways to prevent dust and dirt from entering the system. You can also consider either replacing the sprinklers or servicing them more often.

Human Error

Another common cause of accidental fire sprinkler activation is human error. Human error could occur when a person forgets to pull the fire alarm to test it or when a person accidentally trips the alarm system. The sprinkler system may be triggered if a person accidentally trips an alarm. 

Another way human error could cause an accidental fire sprinkler activation is when a fire alarm is incorrectly reset. If someone forgets to reset an alarm before putting out a fire, it could cause the sprinkler system to go off.

Confusion About Proper Equipment Operation

The last common cause of accidental fire sprinkler activation is confusion about proper equipment operation. 

This usually happens when someone responsible for the sprinkler system isn't correctly trained in the operation. This improper training could cause a false alarm to be sent to the sprinkler system, causing the sprinkler heads to go off even though there isn't a fire.

For example, someone who doesn't know how the system works could accidentally open a fire hydrant or open the wrong valve. This could cause water to spray out at a very high pressure, which would cause an accidental activation.

Bottom Line

A false alarm is likely to happen in any building, but it's inconvenient nonetheless. In some cases, it can lead to a longer response time as first responders don't know if it's a false alarm or not. 

When it comes to accidental fire sprinkler activation, it's important to remember that it's usually the result of some maintenance error. It can be something as simple as dust entering the system or something more complex like a broken part. 

To prevent this, you must ensure that your sprinkler system is properly maintained. It's also wise to make sure you have a plan if a false alarm occurs. Working with a professional is recommended to ensure your fire sprinkler system is operating correctly and will not go off accidentally. 

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