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Automatic Sprinkler Systems - Maintenance



The efficacy of automatic sprinklers as fire suppression systems cannot be disputed. The operation of the system to control or extinguish fire successfully, is statistically invariably high. Factory Mutual System records show a success rate of 85 % using data collected over two years. The NFPA quotes 96 % success based on data collected over 39 years and Australian records show an impressive 99,8 % success rate from date collected over 82 years.

The reliability of the approved sprinkler systems is attributable to the following main reasons:

1. Design codes

-the systems must be designed correctly and in accordance with a complex set of rules.

-only good quality approved components may be used

-an effective maintenance programme must be followed.

The NFPA studied records of fires recorded between the years 1925 and 1959 in order to establish the predominant reasons for sprinkler failure. The conclusions reached bear out modern experience (see table).

Reasons sprinklers fail

Total No incidents studies 67 457

Total No where system failed2 554

Failure rate of 3,7 % where causes of failure were:

Valve shut36,0 %

Partial protection7,9 %

Inadequate water supply9,6 %

System frozen1,1 %

Slow operation1,9 %

Defective dry pipe valve1,9 %

Poor building construction6,0 %

Water distribution obstructed8,4 %

Hazard of occupancy13,1 %

Exposure fire1,8 %

Inadequate maintenance3,4 %

Blocked pipe work4,8 %

Antiquated system2,5 %

Miscellaneous1,8 %

It is not unreasonable to assume that a planned inspection and maintenance scheme would have eliminated many of the faults in this table.

Inspection procedure

To avoid the possibility of the system being rendered inoperative due to valves being inadvertently left closed, etc. inspection should only be carried out by personnel who have an intimate knowledge of the system.

Alterations and maintenance should only be carried out by approved sprinkler installers.

Prior to carrying out test inform the:

1. Water authority if necessary

1. Building owner or occupier

1. Local fire brigade, particularly when the installation is connected to the brigade control room

A permanent record of all inspections and maintenance should be kept and the following recorded:

1. Date and time of inspection

1. Name of person carrying out test

1. Result of test

1. Factors which may have affected the test

1. Recommendations and follow-up action.

When the system is to be shut down for maintenance or any other reason ensure that:

1. downtime of the system is kept to a minimum

1. fire prevention facilities are increased by

-providing additional hand equipment

-affected areas are regularly patrolled - all fire doors, etc in the areas are closed -declaring affected areas no smoking areas for duration of shut down

1. the local fire department, insurance company and brokers should be informed.

Testing of the systems will include an acceptance test on completion of the installation. Thereafter regular inspections should be instituted. Examples of checklists which should be used whenever possible follow. Some adaptation to fit unusual circumstances may be necessary.

Sprinkler monitoring body

The Automatic Sprinkler Inspection Bureau (Pty) Limited (ASIB) is an approval, inspection and monitoring body concerned with all aspects of sprinkler installations.

There were two main reasons for ASIBs establishment.

1. Concern with the increasing number of unsatisfactory automatic sprinkler

systems being installed.

1. The overwhelming demand by insurance companies and owners of sprinkler

Systems for an unbiased, non-commercial, professional inspection service.

The objects of ASIB are to ensure that sprinkler systems are installed in accordance

with the current rules so that fire losses and water damage are reduced to a minimum.

To assist architects, consultants, installers and owners of sprinkler systems in the

interpretation of the rules and to promote good fire protection in general.


In order to achieve these objectives, ASIB approves and lists sprinkler installers who

can prove that they comply with the current requirements which include, inter-alia:

1. A workshop registered as such by the municipality

1. Adequate design personnel

1. A 24-hour emergency service

Sufficient spares to enable immediate servicing.

Once an approved sprinkler installed has completed an installation or extension, the

details ie: drawings and hydraulic calculations, are submitted to ASIB.

An inspector then checks the system and a report is sent to the owner and the installer advising whether or not the system is in order or, if not, requirements are listed.

Once the system complies with the rules, a certificate is issued. Certificates are issued

for premises that are fully protected. Partially protected premises do not qualify.

Half-yearly inspections

Insurance companies require that an ASIB inspection report and certificate are provided

every six months.

The inspection covers:

1. Water supply tests to ensure that the flow and pressure is in accordance with design requirements

1. Tests of alarms, pumps, annunciator panels etc.

1. The condition of all pipe supports and an evaluation of any building alterations which may impair the efficiency of the system.


NFPA 13A Sprinkler Systems Care and Maintenance

NFPA 20 Fire Pumps, Centrifugal

Fire Surveyor, April 1976, The Reliability of Sprinkler Systems

FPIS (Pty) Ltd Australia A Guide to installation of Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems

Automatic Sprinkler Inspection Bureau

SABS 0287: Automatic Sprinkler Installations for fire-fighting purposes.

Published by:

Fire Protection Association of Southern Africa

(Incorporated Association not for Gain)

(Reg.No. 73/00022/08)

P O Box 15467

Impala Park