Is your property protected from a Fire Catastrophe?

The effects of a Fire Catastrophe can be devastating. Those effects get exponentially worse if your property does not have adequate fire protection or your fire protection system is in disrepair resulting from the lack of professional maintenance. The tragic fire at Marco Polo in Waikiki is a vivid reminder of how important life safety is to our community as a whole. Although this building was grandfathered-in, and per code at the time, did not require a fire sprinkler system, it has  brought forth a continuation of the  serious discussion regarding mandatory retrofitting of all high rises over 75 feet to protect life and property within the State of Hawaii.  Statistical data provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) finds that roughly 90% of all fires are extinguished by a Fire Sprinkler System with no additional firefighting needed, 80% of those fires are extinguished with 3 or less sprinklers.

Moreover, an unmaintained system can be unreliable, and could be just as bad as not having one at all.  Fire Sprinkler Systems play a very significant role in the protection of your property and the lives of occupants. The Key to this is to put in place a maintenance program for dependable operation and maintain compliance with codes and ordinances. Your safety isn’t ensured with merely having a fire sprinkler system in place, it needs to be working. A properly designed and maintained fire protection system prevents loss of life and property damage and responds to emergency situation 24\7each and every day of the year. The best way to ensure this is through thorough annual inspections, testing and maintenance programs provided by a licensed and professional Fire protection contractor or Professional Engineer.

An annual inspection program by a licensed Fire Sprinkler contractor or Inspection Service includes:

  • Inspection: A visual examination of a system to verify that it appears to be in operating condition, has not degraded due to environmental conditions and is free of physical damage.
  • Test: A physical trying or operation of a system, or part of a system, to prove that it is functioning properly, as intended and originally designed.
  • Maintenance:  Repairing and maintaining the equipment and overall system in operable condition.

The governing code is NFPA 25 which is “the Standard for the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.” – It states:

“The property owner or designated representative is responsible for properly maintaining a water-based fire protection system. The designated representatives may be the building occupant, management firm, or other person specified in a lease or contract. The building owner may elect to outsource the ITM services to a sprinkler contractor or other inspection, testing, and maintenance service. When the service is contracted to others, the building owner is typically the responsible party who should be overseeing the work, reviewing reports, and authorizing repairs when needed.”

If any deficiencies are found during the NFPA 25 inspections that render a sprinkler system unsatisfactory within NFPA standards, a RED noncompliance tag is required to be attached to the main control valve indicating that corrective action must be taken and immediate action should be taken to avoid fines and other serious liabilities.

Living in a coastal environment, the chlorides (salt) and the moisture in the air can deteriorate your Fire Sprinkler system at a far quicker pace than other parts of the country. Corrosion can have a serious impact on your buildings fire protection system and very costly if it deteriorates to the point of a leak or blowout. Being able to identify areas of concern and minimize cost impact is the key part of maintaining a system.  Corrosion accumulates in sprinkler pipe and fittings which can cause leaks, but what’s worse is it can limit the flow of water, making your sprinkler system less effective, and sometimes can completely obstruct water to a sprinkler when it’s needed most– during a fire. If you are not inspecting your system annually, these issues may not be identified until during or after an emergency in cases where corrosion has caused unknown blockage. This is just another reason why high-quality inspections and proper maintenance are necessary.

Installation of fire sprinklers in your commercial or residential building is the most cost effective way to protect your property and lives of your occupants. But it is also necessary to perform regular fire sprinkler system maintenance which is exceedingly important in ensuring that your system is always in good repair and working properly.

The current fire codes in Hawaii require all new construction of commercial and multi-family residential housing to have Fire Sprinkler Systems installed, and for good reason. Honolulu Fire Department estimates roughly 300 buildings over 75 feet high that were grandfathered in that don’t have a fire sprinkler system. This is primarily because when they were built, it was a cost reduction not to include Fire Sprinklers. While it is true that retrofitting these buildings with Fire Sprinkler systems will be expensive perhaps with some relief from insurance savings, the real issue is life safety. Asking ourselves how much a life is worth brings forth the reality of loss and that no value can be assigned to someone’s life except in a settlement process.

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