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sprinkler systems

By Jackie Berens

How Sprinkler Systems Can Save Your Building

Sprinkler systems don’t just protect your building from potential fires, but from alien invasions too!

I think we all agree, it’s best to be prepared for anything. We’ve seen quite a few once-in-a-lifetime events in the last few months, proving that anything can really happen. We’ve seen footage of UFOs, a Firenado, simultaneous hurricanes, and, oh yes, a global pandemic this year. So how outrageous could an alien invasion be?

As we’ve seen in Aliens 3, the best way to defeat aliens is by using your building’s sprinkler system. Aside from protecting you from an alien invasion, why do commercial buildings require sprinkler systems?

The reason you need a fire sprinkler system

Fire sprinkler systems assist all your fire safety protocols in fighting potential fires and protecting your building’s assets, people, and contents. These systems are an active measure to protect against fires and prevent lives and property damage. They help to limit the fire’s spread and give firefighters ample time to save your building.

Fire sprinklers detect heat from a fire source and trigger the sprinkler head to release water in specific locations. Their purpose is to extinguish the fire or slow it down before the firefighters arrive.

How do I know if a fire sprinkler system is required for my building?

Most commercial buildings require a sprinkler system to be installed, especially in new construction, remodels, and renovations. There are a few sprinkler systems requirements in commercial buildings, the International Building code states the following: 

  1. Sprinkler systems allow builders to increase the footprint of the building. 

Adding sprinkler systems throughout your building allows for a larger building footprint and a higher building height. At VFS, our teams help to plan and budget for new construction sites and assist your team from the planning stages all the way through to completion. Our in-house Design/Build departments produce the highest quality and most accurate results to ensure the safety of your building.

  1. Different occupancies and uses require specific systems.

Certain commercial buildings use group or occupancy-use to determine how the sprinkler systems will be implemented throughout the building. All residential buildings require occupancy load determinants, while other commercial buildings typically use fire areas to determine sprinkler systems management.

  1. Special hazards require sprinkler systems. 

Special hazards environments require the most reliable and advanced fire suppression systems on the market. At VFS we provide not only the systems but the specialized knowledge and certified and trained technicians who install, service, and inspect special hazards fire protection systems including, deluge, foam-based, water mist, dry chemical, and clean agent systems, including FM-200 and carbon dioxide. Special hazard safety begins with the professional integration of the specific fire protection systems required within the environment.

What type of commercial fire sprinkler systems do you need?

Wet Pipe Commercial Sprinkler Systems

Wet pipe commercial sprinkler systems are made up of piping that fills with water when under pressure. These pipes remain filled with water until a fire triggers the sprinkler head to turn on. These are the most frequently used sprinkler systems, as they are extremely simple to use and reliable when you need them most. These systems are also cost-effective in both installation and maintenance. One of the major issues with these sprinkler systems is leaks can occur when temperatures go below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pre-Action Commercial Sprinkler Systems

In certain commercial buildings, some instances may cause sprinkler systems to discharge accidentally. Pre-action sprinkler systems are designed with a valve to hold water back until certain events have taken place that will then trigger water to flow within the pipes and extinguish the fire. There are two types of pre-action systems, single interlock, and double interlock. These systems require certain events to happen in order to trigger water to flow. Let’s talk about them! 


Single Interlock 

Single interlock pre-action systems operate in a similar manner as the dry pipe system. This type of system requires a singular event to occur before water is released into the system; fire detection from a heat or smoke detector that will trigger the pre-action valve to open.

Each sprinkler head individually opens, to ensure the sprinkler head doesn’t turn on preemptively. These systems are uniquely effective for spaces that contain sensitive equipment or costly materials. However, these systems are complex in design, which therefore makes them higher in installation price and in maintenance costs.

Double Interlock 

As you could probably guess the double interlock pre-action system requires two events to occur before releasing water in the system; fire detection from a heat or smoke detector and automatic sprinkler operation. One of the above actions occurs the pre-action valve operates allowing water into the system piping. These actions introduce an extra layer of security from accidental discharge where unintended activation can be damaging to sensitive environments. 

Foam Water Commercial Sprinkler System

Typically sprinkler systems utilize water to extinguish fires. However, for some fires, water will actually make it worse. Foam water fire sprinkler systems mix water with foam concentrate mix that works to put out the fire. The fire started by gas or alcohol needs a foam solvent to extinguish it as quickly and as safely as possible. The foam is used to stifle the flames and eliminate the opportunity for a re-flash. 

Dry Pipe Commercial Sprinkler Systems

These sprinkler systems were designed to mitigate the leaking issue that comes with wet pipe sprinkler systems. Rather than pressurized water remaining in the entire sprinkler system, these systems are only filled with air or nitrogen indirect, non-heated piping. These systems are designed for buildings that reside in freezing temperatures. Because the water doesn’t reside in the piping system from the start, these sprinkler systems have a delay of up to 60 seconds until the water is discharged. 

Deluge Sprinkler Systems

Deluge fire sprinklers are used in high hazard environments such as power plants, aircraft hangars, and chemical storage facilities where significant amounts of water are needed to cool and control the development of a fire. They are connected to a water supply through a deluge valve while the sprinkler heads remain open which releases water to all open sprinkler heads simultaneously. These systems are incredibly effective in high-hazard environments because they release water or another suppressing agent to all open sprinkler heads simultaneously.

At VFS Fire & Security Services we don’t stop at the basics, we apply our full book of expertise to the systems that need them and follow the specific requirements depending on the particular authority having jurisdiction. Every environment is unique and has its own set of specific requirements and the experts at VFS will help get your business up to code every step of the way.

You need to be prepared for whatever comes your way — including alien invasions! At VFS, we offer preventative and inspection maintenance to ensure your systems are running effectively and efficiently. 

Your business needs to be kept safe, we understand what it takes to make that happen.  

 

Active vs. Passive Fire Protection

By Jackie Berens

Active vs. Passive Fire Protection

When your wife says “I’m fine…” How to put out fires (because your relationship is about to go up in flames)

As a husband, the last thing you want to hear is your wife passive-aggressively saying “I’m fine…” You know exactly what that means- it’s time to put out a figurative fire because your relationship is about to go up in flames. As a building owner, the flames you need to avoid aren’t quite as figurative. 

In order to fight very real fires that can occur in your building, you need to implement proper fire protection systems. Both active and passive fire protection systems are necessary to keep your building, and more importantly, your people safe from harm. 

What is passive fire protection?

The word ‘passive’ has a connotation that the object in question is something that is not expected to produce results. Your wife’s passive-aggressive comments beg to differ, and so do your passive fire protection systems.  In fact, passive fire protection (pfp) can be equally, if not more, effective than active fire protection. 

Passive fire protection systems are stationary materials designed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. These systems help keep the fire in its original area, therefore, stopping it from spreading throughout the building. The combination of active and passive fire protection systems can help put out fires faster and stop additional damage from occurring. 

These fire protection systems are typically built into your building. When looking to renovate or build on a property, there is a lot of careful planning needed to ensure your building has these passive fire protection systems in place. Our team can help your team design and plan your construction in order to ensure building safety. For example, using cinder block walls as opposed to traditional wood-frame walls help to reduce the spread of flames. 

However, passive systems can still be added after construction. Structures like smoke baffles, fire doors, and fire-resistant glass partitions can be installed after construction has been completed. 

The objective of a passive fire protection system is to hold the smoke and flames in one contained area. They can also be used to channel the flames out of the building. When you have passive fire protection systems in place, fires that do occur are easier to extinguish. 

What is active fire protection?

With an active fire protection (afp) system, some kind of action is taking place. Whether it is manual or automatic, these systems deploy once fire, smoke, or heat is detected. These systems are designed to help combat the fire, and help put it out. 

Most buildings are equipped with a few active systems that can be deployed onsite during a fire.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors activate when there is smoke in the building. These detectors typically utilize noise and light to alert occupants in the building of the potential fire. 

Fire Extinguishers

Are manually operated active fire protection measures. These help occupants put out small fires within the building. 

Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler systems are active fire protection systems that automatically activate to help put out the fire while building occupants move to safety. These systems trigger when the heat from the fire causes the sprinkler head to open. There are various types of fire sprinkler systems that can be beneficial for your business. 

Understanding your unique business needs is exactly what we do at VFS. Our in-house teams help with construction services, special hazard needs, inspection maintenance, and preventative maintenance. We are your partner in success. 

Ventilation Systems

Ventilation systems help direct smoke out of the building and away from the occupants. 

These active fire protection systems are typically installed based on certain legal criteria such as occupancy and building size. Higher than average risk areas, such as areas with flames or cooking implements might require additional active systems for added protection. 

How do passive and active fire protection measures work together?

A combined effort of passive and active systems is essential to the safety of your building and its occupants. Active systems effectively help occupants evacuate or fight the flames, these systems typically have a greater likelihood of error. 

Passive systems should be installed throughout the building as a way to support active systems. A great example of passive and active systems working together is smoke curtains. These passive fire protection systems help direct smoke toward vents, where smoke can leave the building. Passive systems can also help force flames and smoke to remain in one area.

New buildings should implement these passive fire protection systems into the design and build phase of construction. Our Design/Build team at VFS can help ensure your building is protected from harm when it is finished. Older buildings, which do not have these passive systems built-in, can be retrofitted with smoke curtains and panels as an added layer of protection. 

Active and passive fire protection systems together can prevent expensive damages, catastrophic injuries, and potential loss of life. Implementing both systems into your building is essential to the safety of your building. 

At VFS, we believe in helping your company meet the needs of your unique building. Every building is different, every building needs different protection systems in place. Our teams think creatively to come up with solutions that ensure your building remains safe from harm. Reach out to us today to see how we can help your business today! 

Your 2021 Fire protection checklist

By Jackie Berens

Your 2021 Fire Protection Checklist

It’s a new year… you’ve already skipped the gym don’t skip on your fire protection. Here’s a checklist to help

We’re four days into the new year, if you haven’t already ditched your resolutions, you’re amazing. We’re not going to lie… we snuck a piece of chocolate cake after dinner last night. While a piece of chocolate cake, or a day off of the gym won’t seriously harm your wellbeing, there is one resolution you can’t forget about- fire protection for your building.

This year, it’s time to make fire protection a top priority. That being said, we’ve come up with a few items that should be on the top of your mind if you’re committed to fire safety. 

First, ensure your building has a clear path of egress/ exit. 

Identifying the ‘means of egress’ from your building is essential to keeping your employees safe from harm. Properly designed exits provide a safe path of escape from a fire or other emergency environments. The design of the exit should permit all occupants to reach a safe place before they are endangered by fire, smoke, or heat. The goal of an effective means of egress is to get everyone out of hazardous areas in the shortest amount of time possible.

A few components make up the means of egress, including exit access, exit, and exit discharge.

  • Exit access is the travel path or area between where a person is located and an exit.
  • Exit is the portion of the means of egress that is separated by construction or equipment from other areas of the building. Components of an exit include walls, floors, doors, etc. An exit may include vertical or horizontal means of travel, like stairways, ramps, and passageways. It is important to note that elevators are not accepted as exits!
  • Exit discharge is the portion of a means of egress between the end of the exit and a public way or other safe places.

As a building manager or owner, it is important that you self-inspect these means of egress. In doing this, you need to make sure each component is easily identifiable, visible, accessible, and unobstructed. The door must operate in the direction of the exit so people won’t be trapped inside. 

Next, check your electrical wiring and power cords.

NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) ensures all wiring and electrical installations comply with regulations. Building owners and managers do not need to be an expert in electrical code, however there are a few things you should be on the lookout for to be cautious!

The first thing you should do to ensure your electrical wiring is safe is to ensure all electrical boxes, switches, and outlets have their covers in place. Also, be sure to check that extension cords are in good condition and free of any cuts or splices. Extension cords should never be a substitute for permanent wiring, they are only permitted to be used with temporary equipment. 

Surge protectors must be connected directly to an outlet and, like extension cords, cannot be attached to the structure, extend through walls or the ceilings, be run under doors, or be covered by floor coverings.

The last item to check in the electrical wiring category is electrical panel boxes. Electrical panel boxes and main building disconnect must be identified and accessible for fire department personnel. All panels and breakers must be labeled and open spaces should have proper covers in place. 

Good housekeeping is essential– no we’re not talking about dusting and mopping. 

In the ‘fire safety’ sense, housekeeping refers to the general condition of the building and the items stored within it. Be sure you properly dispose of flammables, combustibles, trash, and debris, and ensure these items do not accumulate. Flammables and combustible liquids must be stored in approved containers and cabinets and should be clearly labeled to avoid accidental ignition. 

Electrical, boiler and HVAC rooms cannot be used for storage and must remain clear of items that are not essential to the operation of the equipment within them. 

Ensure fire sprinkler systems run effectively in between inspections

Fire sprinkler systems must meet NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-based Fire Protection Systems requirements. These standards require that different parts of the sprinkler systems receive inspections in quarterly, semi-annual, annual, and five-year intervals. 

The inspections are performed by the fire protection contractors and other qualified personnel. As a building owner or manager, you do not have to directly handle any of the actual inspections. However, as a building owner, there are a few things you can do to ensure these inspections run efficiently and effectively, starting with scheduling the inspection appointments when due!

Once you receive an inspection, you must maintain the report and other documentation, as well as ensure all problems found are repaired as soon as possible. 

A building owner or manager can utilize a simple visual inspection to ensure these systems run effectively between inspections. First, ensure that no items are stored within 18” of any sprinkler head. Next, ensure all sprinkler heads are free of paint and corrosion and nothing is attached to them. If you come across violations of these requirements during your visual inspections, the issues should be reported and remedied immediately. 

Fire alarm maintenance and inspections

Under NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code all fire alarm systems must be inspected, tested, and maintained at semi-annual, annual, and even quarterly intervals. Like sprinkler systems, these inspections are done by trained and certified inspection personnel. Fire alarm system experts are trained in the inspection, maintenance, and testing of a particular brand of fire alarm systems. 

As a building owner, your responsibility is to maintain all reports and correct any deficiencies noted. Building owners and managers can also make sure the fire alarm panel is accessible, the location is labeled, and all documentation is maintained and available. Manual pull stations should be visible and accessible. All alerts should be reported to the alarm company so that any issues can be addressed quickly. 

Lastly, look at your fire extinguisher. 

NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers illustrates the requirements to select, place, test, and maintain fire extinguishers. A trained and certified expert must perform annual inspection and maintenance. Additionally, building owners are responsible for inspecting all extinguishers once a month.

The inspection requires that extinguishers are visible and accessible. They must also be free of rust, damage, and the gauge read in the “green” operation level. Additionally, all extinguishers must mount on the wall. The weight of the extinguisher determines the appropriate height of placement: 40 lbs or less may be installed at 5 feet above the floor. Any heavier should sit at a maximum height of 3 ½ feet. The base must be at least 4 inches above the floor. 

As you look to ensure your fire safety in your building for the new year, start by utilizing this checklist! Ensuring you remain prepared for the unexpected is the first step to ensuring the safety of your people and your building’s safety.

Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays

By Jackie Berens

Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays

When you light it up on NYE, make sure it’s not an actual fire hazard!

It’s almost the New Year, and you know what that means… it’s time to light it up! But be careful, as 2020 has shown us, you can never be too careful with your health and safety. In other words, don’t go out of 2020 with a literal bang.

Figuratively, yes light it up, go out with a bang, and forget about the past 365 days! But keep in mind a few fire safety precautions as you do it. We’re a fire prevention company, what else would we be talking about going into the New Year?

Your smoke detector may be annoying, but there’s a reason. 

We understand the ringing from a smoke detector is the last thing you need during the holidays. However, smoke detectors have a purpose and that is to keep you safe. Be sure your smoke detectors are up-to-date and have working batteries. 

Just like the airport, unattended baggage- in this case, pots and pans- should be subject to removal. 

The holiday season brings about quite a few family dinners and get-togethers that are centered around a meal. With aunts, uncles, or even just your immediate family, the kitchen can get a bit chaotic during the holiday season. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and distracted, and potentially forget about a pan on the stove or a simmering pot. 

The majority of kitchen fires begin with unattended pots and pans. While you’re cooking it’s important to remain present and aware of your surroundings. Another useful tip is to keep the clutter away as much as possible. 

Rockin’ around an open flame just isn’t as catchy…

The glow of your Christmas tree is beautiful, we agree, however, be sure you take precautions to ensure your safety. Be sure your tree remains hydrated and away from any heat source. According to the NFPA, 25% of the Christmas tree fires that occur do so because the tree was too close to a heat source, like a candle or space heater.  Christmas trees are one of the most common fire hazards during the holidays.

Yes, we know it is cold, yes, the ambiance of your fireplace is perfect, but please be careful. 

According to the NFPA, heating equipment is the second-greatest cause of home fires each year. We understand that heating your home is important, you need to stay warm and cozy during these cold months, however you also need to stay safe. The last thing you want is to be standing out in the freezing cold while the fire department hoses down your house!

When using a space heater, ensure it is at least 3 feet from items that might burn, including decor, upholstery, and your Christmas tree.

As far as your fireplace goes, be sure your damper is open, a protective screen is in play, and your gifts and other items remain far away. Fireplaces can crackle and release embers that could spark into something bigger and more dangerous.

Overpacking your outlet is not like overpacking for your holiday vacation… it’s worse.  

While there are plenty of things that need to be plugged in during the holiday season, it’s important to be careful not to overcrowd outlets. Electrical shorts and malfunctions are one of the leading causes of devastating electrical fires. 

As you string your lights and plug more decor into an outlet, be sure the outlet’s total load does not exceed 15 amps. While it may be tempting to have your house shining at all times during the holidays, be sure you turn off your decor when you leave the house and when you go to bed. 

Be aware of indoor and outdoor decor

As you decorate for each respective holiday, it’s important to test all lights and cords and replace anything faulty before you use them. Ensure all candles are placed out of reach of children and away from flammable objects, be sure to extinguish them before you leave the room and go to sleep. 

As far as outdoor decor goes, be sure to only use extension cords and light displays intended for outdoor use. Those cords should be kept away from both snow and standing water to avoid damage to the insulation. Be sure the cords are not pinched in doors, windows, or placed under furniture. Keep in mind, metal ladders conduct electricity, opt for a wood or fiberglass ladder instead. 

The last thing you need in 2020 is to lose a finger, be careful with your fireworks. 

You may want to celebrate the start of 2021 with fireworks, understandable, it’s tradition, but be aware of the potential safety hazards that fireworks come with. When used inappropriately, fireworks can present a few added risks. 

According to the NFPA, 10% of fireworks fires occur during the period from December 30- January 3, with a peak on New Years Day.

Be sure if you do set off fireworks on your own, you check local laws prior, you choose a location away from buildings and trees, and your spectators stand well away from the actual site. Keep water or a fire extinguisher close by in case of emergency. As we Californians know, if you’re experiencing a drought in your area, it is recommended that you cancel the show. 

While all of these safety precautions may seem daunting as you work to tackle the holidays, they are extremely important to your safety. From our team at VFS, we wish you happy and safe holidays!

5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency

By Jackie Berens

5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency

Stop, drop, and roll, that’s all we need to know about fires right? Not exactly… While that advice is extremely important when you catch on fire, during a fire you need to know exactly what to do, and what not to do. Here are a few tips!

One of the biggest mistakes people make in structural fires is opening various doors without checking for an alternate escape route.

While yes, fleeing the scene is an important instinct during a fire, sometimes opening a door can cause more damage than good.  Fires require oxygen to spread. When you open a door (especially one that is warm) the fire receives that oxygen, therefore exposing you to dangerous heat levels and toxic carbon monoxide gas. 

Before you open a door to exit, check for alternate routes where flames have not spread. If you are on the first level of the building, a window can also act as a great exit plan. 

What if the fire started or spread in the room you’re in?

If the fire is in the room you’re in, and you need to open a door to exit the danger, please do! However, be sure you close the door behind you to ensure you give a barrier to the fire. Opening the door will invite the fire to spread and potentially follow you out. In an effort to contain the fire, close the door behind you! 

While the elevator may seem like the quickest way out, if there’s a fire it could put you in real danger! 

If there’s a fire in your building, avoid the elevators at all costs. The stairs are the safest, best option during a fire. During a fire, elevators can malfunction, disable, or experience various electrical issues. When you are in a high-rise or larger building locate the emergency exits and stairwells to ensure you remain safe. 

Fire extinguishers are great, but you need to know how to use them!

Fire extinguishers can save you during a fire. With fire extinguishers, it is important to understand how to use them. The most common mistake with fire extinguishers is that you aim too high on top of the flames. In order to be most effective, the fire extinguisher needs to be pointed at the base. 

When using a fire extinguisher, pull the pin, aim at the base of the flames, squeeze the trigger, and sweep from side to side. As a business owner, it’s important to check fire extinguishers for expiration. Fire extinguishers should be replaced every few years. 

Don’t break the windows

Fire-related deaths are typically caused by smoke inhalation rather than the heat of the fire itself. With that being said, breaking windows during a fire allows the fire to gain more access to oxygen, helping the fire grow, and decreasing your ability to escape. When you keep the windows closed you are starving the fire. 

Do not return to the building for your belongings. 

As you’re told when you’re in elementary school, leave all your belongings and allow the first responders to fight the fire. You might think you have time to grab a few things, but fire can move quicker than you expect. 

It’s important to understand what you need to do, and not do in case of a fire. We understand it can be challenging to not panic when a fire occurs. The best thing you can do is leave it in a safe way, and allow the first responders to take care of it.

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sprinkler systems
How Sprinkler Systems Can Save Your Building
Active vs. Passive Fire Protection
Active vs. Passive Fire Protection
Your 2021 Fire protection checklist
Your 2021 Fire Protection Checklist
Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays
Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays
5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency
5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency