There are many life safety systems in our campus buildings. These systems are designed to help you stay safe in the event of a fire emergency. These systems include fire detection and notification systems (fire alarms), water based fire protection systems (fire sprinkler and stand-pipes), kitchen hood suppression systems, and room specific suppression systems. You will also find gas detection systems to warn you of the release of toxic gases and smoke.
Life safety systems are to be tested and approved when installed. These life safety systems also need to be tested periodically in accordance with corresponding NFPA standard to ensure proper operation. Impairment procedures need to be followed when a system or part of a system is taken out of service.
Fire Protection Systems, Programs & Requirements
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Fire Alarm Detection System
Fire detection and notification systems more commonly referred to as fire alarm system. Fire alarm systems are installed to provide building occupants an early warning of a fire.
Fire alarm systems are comprised of pull stations, smoke detectors, heat detectors, duct detectors, speaker/strobes, and/or horns and strobes. A fire alarm system can be activated in many ways. Some examples include pulling a fire alarm pull station or detection of smoke or heat. A fire alarm system can also be activated by flow and tamper switches connected to a fire sprinkler system that detect water flow.
When a fire alarm system is activated, speaker/strobes flash at a given flash rate and an audible noise notification will be heard with possible voice instructions on what building occupants shall do. Audible noise levels will be at least 70 dba.
It is extremely important to evacuate a building upon hearing the fire alarm. Proceed to the buildings’ nearest exit in an orderly fashion. Once outside get at least 100 feet away from the building and assemble at your facility’s designated assembly point.
NFPA 72 is the national standard for fire alarm installation and maintenance. Fire alarm systems shall be tested based on standard set within NFPA and IFC. Inspection and testing records shall be kept and maintained by the University.
Fire Protection Impairment Program
Fire protection impairment is the shutdown, in whole or part of a fire protection system. The Fire Protection Impairment Program was put together by the University to follow requirements made by the NFPA, IFC, and OSHA in order to supervise the safe shutdown of a fire protection system, to control potential fire hazards during impairment, and to restore the fire protection system to service as soon as possible. This program applies to all University of Wisconsin–Madison employees, outside contractors and their representatives, any company representative hired by the University of Wisconsin–Madison to provide service, or any other outside trade worker who will be working at or within a University of Wisconsin–Madison facility.
During the impairment of a fire protection system several actions must be taken as outlined in the Fire Protection Impairment Program. These primarily include completing the pre- and post-impairment forms as well as the fire watch form if necessary. In addition to completing the appropriate forms, the Impairment Coordinator at UW–Madison will need to be contacted to authorize the shutdown of the fire protection system, and to ensure that the impairment procedures are followed and completed.
For more information on fire protection impairment protocol refer to the Fire Protection Impairment Program.
Fire Suppression Systems
Environment Health & Safety’s Fire Extinguisher Shop is responsible for the maintenance and inspection of 60 fixed fire suppression systems located in solvent rooms and computer areas on campus and the University Hospital. All systems are inspected bi-annually according to the NFPA code.
The four different types of suppression agents used are Dry Chemical, Wet Chemical, Carbon Dioxide, and Halon. Different agents are used for different fire hazards.
- Carbon Dioxide systems are used to protect most solvent rooms. This type of system is a total flooding system and requires that the door and vents to the room remain shut during actuation of the system. This system is extremely effective but is dangerous if a person is trapped in the room, as it displaces oxygen, during a discharge. For this reason all CO2 suppression systems have a pre-discharge alarm which gives anyone working in the space time to get out before Co2 is released.
- Halon systems are used to protect high tech areas, such as computer rooms, and high tech areas where minimal collateral damage from the firefighting agent can be tolerated because Halon is a totally clean agent. Another nice feature of Halon is that life can be supported at the concentrations used to extinguish the fire. Even though you can remain in a room during a Halon discharge, all Halon system are equipped with a pre-discharge alarm to give occupants time to leave the area before Halon is discharged. Halon’s main drawbacks are that it has ozone depletion potential and is extremely expensive to recharge.
- A dry chemical system uses powder, sodium or potassium bicarbonate, to extinguish a fire. The system operates much like a hand-held dry chemical fire extinguisher. The dry chemical powder is discharged from the system and covers the entire room in a fine powder. Upon coating everything in the room, the discharged extinguishing agent essentially separates the fuel source from the oxygen supply, smothering the fire.
- A wet chemical system is ideal for grease laden cooking facilities. The wet chemical agent used is a potassium carbonate solution. When the potassium carbonate solution is discharged, the solution is released in a fine mist or droplet spray pattern. The discharged solution combines with the fuel source (i.e. grease) separating itself from the oxygen source. The reaction of combining the grease and potassium carbonate is called saponification. Saponification is a process that produces soap by combining fats with a basic ingredient. For our purposes, animal grease is our fat and potassium carbonate extinguishing agent is our base.
Activation of any suppression system can happen by a number of methods. These methods include fusible link, thermo detection, flame detection, or by pulling manual pull station.
“Hot work” is a term used to describe a task or operation that generates heat, sparks, or an open flame, such as welding, cutting, grinding, soldering, torch applied roofing, heat guns, and similar activities. Welders and others who are responsible for hot work operations may be required to attend a special class to learn about hot work safety procedures. At a bare minimum, hot work operators must always keep combustible materials at least 35 feet away, keep a fire extinguisher readily available, make sure the jobsite has a hot work permit posted, and maintain a fire watch for at least 30 minutes after all hot work operations have ended.
If hot work operations are performed within an area where you are present, you need to know that most hot work processes release large amounts of hazardous air contaminants, which may include lead, manganese, hexavalent chromium (known to cause cancer), nickel, and other hazardous air contaminants. Electric arc welding also generates hazardous ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can permanently damage your eyesight. Never look directly at a welding arc, except through a welder’s helmet. Proper personal protective equipment and good ventilation is required for hot work processes. Relocate to a different work area if you are not properly equipped to be in a hot work area.
Call EH&S and ask to speak to a fire safety specialist for more information about hot work.
Kitchen Hood Requirements
Hood Systems are located above fryers and grills and are used for exhausting cooking odors and grease. They are a good place to install fire suppression nozzles because of their location above the fire hazard. The fire suppression nozzles can discharge either a wet or dry fire suppression agent in case one of the fryers or grills should catch on fire. Also, this area is usually protected with fire suppression nozzles because there is a heavy buildup of grease in the area above the hood, called the plenum. A specially formulated fire suppression agent is stored in pressurized vessels in close proximity to the hazard.
This type of system works in local application by chemically reacting and smothering the fire. Proper inspection and constant evaluation of the hazard should make sure this type of system will work when needed.
Water-Based Fire Protection Systems
Water based fire protection systems are installed to contain a fire until the fire department arrives on scene. These systems are designed to deal with specific hazards. Sprinkler heads come in various sizes and shapes and have various temperature settings. The bulb ruptures when the colored sprinkler head element reaches its temperature setting. Once ruptured, water is released from the sprinkler head. The number of sprinkler heads activated will depend on the amount of heat being generated by a fire. In most cases, not all sprinkler heads activate at the same time like you see in the movies. There are systems designed to operate like you see in the movies but those systems are few and far between.