Skip Navigation

Fire Sprinkler System Maintenance and Requirements

Your building's automatic fire sprinkler is the first line of defense against fire so it's important to know the requirements and how to keep your system maintained. This guide can help you learn about your sprinkler's systems control valves, how and when to test your sprinkler system and how stay in compliance with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Fire Sprinkler Systems Control Valve Safeguarding

Closed valves are the main cause of sprinkler system failure according to the NFPA. The NFPA advises that "each normally open valve shall be secured by means of a seal or a lock or shall be electrically supervised."

Sprinkler Control Valves—What Are They?

Control valves control the flow of water in an automatic fire sprinkler system. Therefore, it is critical they remain open to allow water flow to the sprinklers. There will likely be several control valves located throughout your system that separate the system into designated sections. These valves come in a variety of sizes and types. The most common types of control valves are described below.

Outside Stem & Yoke (OS&Y) valve—Also known as an indicating gate valve, this valve is classified as an indicating type. This means that one can visually determine if the valve is open or closed. An OS&Y valve is open when the threaded stem extends from the valve. The valve is closed when the stem is not visible above the control wheel.

Butterfly valve—This indicating valve type includes a vane that moves when the valve wheel is turned. If the vane is parallel to the riser or direction of water flow, the valve is open. If the vane is perpendicular to the direction of water flow, the valve is closed.

Post Indicator Valve (PIV)—This valve may be mounted on the exterior of the building (horizontal type) or in the yard of the premises (vertical type). The valve indicates its status through a small window on the side, which displays either "OPEN" or "SHUT."

Sprinkler Control Valve Safeguarding Techniques

NFPA standards require each control valve contained within an automatic fire sprinkler system to be secured. Each of the following methods can effectively secure valves from accidental or intentional closure.

Chain & Lock—Secure a locked chain through the control wheel or handle to prevent physical movement of the valve. The valve should be chained and locked in the open position.

Locked & Limited Access Room—The control valve can be safeguarded by limiting access to the valve. This may consist of keeping the door(s) to riser rooms locked and limiting access to authorized personnel only.

Tamper Switch—A tamper switch is an electromechanical device attached or integrated into the valve controls. If the valve is moved, the device sends an electrical signal. The tamper switch alarms should be supervised by a 24-hour remote station. They can be locally monitored if the building is continuously occupied. Most tamper switch devices have a reset key. This key should be safeguarded or kept with authorized personnel only.

You can also utilize two or more of the above techniques to provide superior safeguarding.

Note: Each sprinkler system is different and may have specific valve types or safeguarding requirements that cannot be addressed in this document. If you are unfamiliar with your system or require specific procedures, contact a sprinkler system contractor.

Your Guide to Fire Sprinkler System Labeling

Inspections, tests and maintenance of automatic fire sprinkler systems are essential for correct operation during a fire. Each sprinkler system is different and has unique requirements. The following procedures are general in nature. If you are unfamiliar with your system or specific procedures are required, contact your sprinkler system contractor.

Control Valve, Main Drain and Test Valve

Permanently marked, weatherproof caution signs should be attached to all sprinkler system control valves. The signs should read:

"This valve controls fire protection equipment. Do not close until after the fire has been extinguished. Use auxiliary valves when necessary to shut off supply to auxiliary equipment. CAUTION: Automatic alarm may sound if this valve is closed."

The control valve sign should also identify the area of the building or system it controls. Drain valves and test connections should be labeled.

Fire Department Connection

Each fire department connection (or siamese connection) should be labeled with a sign. The letters should be raised or engraved and at least 1-inch high, on a plate or fitting. The sign should read:

"AUTO SPRINKLER," "OPEN SPRK," or "AUTO SPRK AND STANDPIPE."

The fire department connection should be clear of obstruction and easy to identify. Connections should be equipped with plugs or caps that are approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. If breakable caps are used, you should stock spare caps.

Outside Alarms

Each outside alarm should have a sign located near the device in an obvious location. The sign should read:

"SPRINKLER FIRE ALARM—WHEN BELL RINGS, CALL FIRE DEPARTMENT OR POLICE."

Hydraulic Placard

If the fire sprinkler system is hydraulically designed, the installing contractor should place hydraulic placard(s) on or near the riser. This weatherproof sign should be permanently marked with information for each hydraulically designed area. The sign should include the following information:

  • Location of the design area(s)
  • Discharge densities over the design area(s)
  • Required flow and residual pressure demand at the base of the riser
  • Occupancy or commodity classification
  • Maximum permitted storage height and configuration
  • Hose stream demand
  • Name of the installing contractor

Fire Sprinkler System Test Records

Maintaining test results and proper recordkeeping are important steps in verifying that an automatic fire sprinkler system will perform correctly during a fire. Records should be kept on the premises and be maintained by the building occupant and/or owner.

As-built fire sprinkler plans, original acceptance test records, device data sheets and other system documentation should also be kept on hand for when questions regarding the system pop up.

Main Drain Test

Changes in the water supply can be identified when you keep results of main drain tests. The following information should be maintained:

  • Static pressure before drain opening
  • Residual pressure
  • Static pressure after drain closure
  • Inspector's test—results should be maintained to show the operation of the flow alarm. The results will also help identify any obstructions between the sprinkler riser and the system's most remote area. See sample form layout below.

Sample Recordkeeping Form

DateMain Drain TestsAlarm/
Inspector's
Test Time
Valve Safeguard CheckBy Whom

Static Pressure
(before/after)

Residual
Pressure
Chained and LockedTamper Switch Operated
3/01/1265/655060 SecYesYesJ. Smith
9/01/1267/675360 SecYesYesJ. Smith
3/01/1364/644861 SecYesYesJ. Smith

Valve Safeguard Check

Each control valve should be checked and documented as fully open and safeguarded from closure. The safeguarded condition can be recorded as "Chained and Locked" and/or "Tamper Switch Operated."

If there is only a chain and lock on the valve, the category titled "Tamper Switch Operated" can be recorded as "Not Applicable" or "N/A." If the valve is not chained and locked but is in a secure area, record as "Locked Room."

Fire Sprinkler System Trained Employees

A minimum of one employee per shift (or an on-call employee) should be trained in the basic operation of the automatic fire sprinkler system. If a sprinkler head or piping is damaged, or if the building's heating system fails, it may be necessary to shut off a valve to minimize water damage. After being trained, employees should be able to perform some or all the inspections required for fire sprinkler systems.

Basic knowledge of the sprinkler system and its components can help employees identify deficiencies and respond to issues that arise. Any deficiencies identified should be brought to the attention of building maintenance personnel or a fire sprinkler contractor.

What a Trained Employee Should Know About Sprinkler Systems

This person should be educated and trained to be aware of the following:

  • Normal operating conditions for the system(s)
  • Common system types and basic operation
  • Sprinkler types
  • Location of control valves and corresponding control area
  • Location of alarm-indicating device
  • Location of sprinkler zones (if applicable)
  • Basic inspection, testing and maintenance requirements
  • Location of sprinkler system records

State and local codes or regulations may require licensing of persons who conduct inspections, maintenance or tests on fire sprinkler systems. Contact your local fire code official or legal representation regarding possible restrictions before performing any tasks related to the fire sprinkler system.

Fire Sprinkler System Shutdown

Every automatic fire sprinkler system has at least one control valve, which is used to temporarily stop the flow of water into the piping system. Occasionally, these valves need to be closed. For the fire sprinkler system to operate as designed, these valves must be reopened as soon as possible. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), closed valves account for approximately one-third of all sprinkler system failures.

WARNING! Shutting off or otherwise disabling your fire sprinkler system without notifying EMC Insurance Companies may affect your insurance coverage.

Reasons to Close Control Valves

An automatic fire sprinkler system control valve may need to be closed for the following reasons:

  • Inspection, testing and maintenance procedures, such as internal pipe or valve inspection
  • System piping repair, sprinkler replacement or system modifications
  • Building heating failure (to prevent water damage from freezing water causing a pipe failure)

Avoid complete system shutdown whenever possible. Some buildings have several fire sprinkler systems or system sections that protect specific parts of a building. Shut down only the necessary systems or sections to maintain fire protection coverage in unaffected areas of your building(s).

Take Precautions

Before performing a complete system shutdown, take these necessary actions:

  • Contact EMC Insurance Companies by completing a "Valve Closing Notice" at www.emcins.com
  • Contact your local fire department
  • Contact your insurance agent
  • Discontinue hazardous operations (cutting, welding or other Hot Work)
  • Initiate Fire Watch in all deactivated areas
  • Connect a fire hose from a hydrant to a siamese (fire department) connection, if feasible
  • Alert fire brigade (if applicable)
  • Bring extra extinguisher(s) to deactivated areas
  • Have plugs on hand for closing open pipes (if applicable)

During a partial or sectional shutdown, take these necessary actions:

  • Perform a Fire Watch in all deactivated areas
  • Have a person stationed at valve
  • Lay a fire hose from hydrant to affected area

After reopening valves, take the following actions:

  • Perform Main Drain (2-inch Drain) and Inspector's tests
  • Contact EMC Insurance Companies by completing a "Valve Reopening Notice"

Fire Sprinkler System and Storage Practices

Warehouse fires have proven to be a great challenge for automatic fire sprinkler systems, due to the high density of combustible materials and significant storage heights.

Sprinkler system designs are based on specific details regarding the type of commodity being stored, the method of storage (rack or floor), storage height, configuration of the loads, packaging types and materials, ceiling height and others. Because each system is designed for a specific storage arrangement, changing any aspect of the storage may alter the effectiveness of the automatic fire sprinkler system. The following storage practices can severely impact the effectiveness of your fire protection.

Minimum Vertical Clearance Between Sprinkler Head and Obstructions

One of the most critical factors for sprinkler performance is the water spray pattern. Obstructions that prevent a proper water spray pattern are the leading cause of sprinkler system ineffectiveness. In order for the proper spray pattern to develop, sufficient vertical clearance must be maintained between the sprinkler head deflectors and the highest storage. The minimum vertical clearance for standard spray sprinklers is 18 inches and 36 inches for Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers.

Rack Storage and Sprinkler System Requirements

It is important to ensure that the minimum clearance between sprinklers and rack storage systems is met.

Flue spaces—Maintaining flue spaces in rack storage arrangements allows for sprinkler water from the ceiling sprinkler system to penetrate the rack system and reach fires imbedded below. Both longitudinal and transverse flue spaces should be maintained at no less than 6 inches.

Solid shelving—Solid shelving should be avoided whenever possible in a rack storage system. Solid shelving, or slats occupying 50% or more of the surface of the unit rack shelf area, should be replaced with an open shelf system, limited slats or expanded metal shelving. This will allow sprinkler water to penetrate the rack system and reach fires imbedded below. If solid shelving is necessary, properly designed and located “in-rack” sprinklers may be necessary.

Inside Idle Wood Pallet Storage

Idle pallets can be at the root of some of the most challenging fires to control. Typical pallets consist of dry wood, considerable air spaces and a large area of shielded combustible surfaces. NFPA® has developed guidelines for the inside storage of idle pallets.

  • Limit pallet stacks to 6 feet in height
  • Group a maximum of four stacks together
  • Separate groups by 8 feet or from other commodities by 25 feet of clear space
  • Specifically design sprinkler systems for idle pallet storage above these guidelines
  • Never place idle pallets in storage racks

Proper Package Encapsulation for Fire Prevention

Encapsulation is a packaging method where a pallet load of combustible material is plastic-wrapped on all four sides and top. Encapsulation can contribute to increased rate of fire growth because the plastic inhibits the “pre-wetting” process.

Pre-wetting occurs when sprinkler water contacts the commodity adjacent to the fire. This process slows fire growth because water-soaked commodities must absorb more thermal energy prior to ignition. If possible, plastic should not cover the top of the pallet load. If encapsulation is necessary, the fire sprinkler system should be specifically designed for this type of storage.

Fire Sprinkler System Alarms

Fire sprinkler alarms, in conjunction with regular testing, inspection and maintenance, help ensure operational status, notify building occupants of emergency conditions and summon public fire protection response upon system activation. Automatic fire sprinkler systems have alarms that indicate two main distinct conditions

  • A system or device status requiring attention (i.e., tamper switch, air pressure)
  • System activation alarms (i.e., water flow)

Due to differing building occupancies, construction types and other details, fire protection system devices, designs or code requirements may vary.

Fire sprinkler alarms should be transmitted to an approved remote monitoring station, central station, fire department or other proprietary alarm-receiving facility if the premises are not continuously occupied by a qualified person who can respond.

Types of Sprinkler Alarms and Monitoring

Flow Alarms—Flow alarms, either mechanically or electrically, indicate water is flowing through the sprinkler system. This flow is usually associated with a sprinkler head operating in response to a fire.

Tamper Switch Alarms—Tamper switch alarms serve as a warning if a valve is not completely open. A partially closed valve reduces the water supply to the fire sprinkler system.

Room Temperature Alarms—Temperature monitoring may be necessary for a dry-pipe or pre-action fire sprinkler riser room to ensure the temperature does not drop below 40°F.

Air Pressure Alarms—Low and high air pressure conditions for dry-pipe and pre-action systems should be indicated by a monitored alarm. Low pressure may lead to system activation, and high pressure may lead to a delay of water delivery to a fire.

Fire Pump Alarms—Alarms for fire pumps should be in place when the pump room is not constantly attended. Fire pump alarms may be necessary to indicate pump activation, loss of electrical phase, reversal of electrical phase and alternate power source status. The notification of these alarm conditions is usually made to the alarm panel by the fire pump controller that monitors the pump.

Integrated Detection Device Alarms—Smoke, heat and flame detectors may be integrated into a pre-action or deluge sprinkler system. These devices may be used to activate a fire sprinkler valve to start the flow of water.

Spare Sprinkler Requirements

Spare sprinkler heads and a sprinkler wrench allow for prompt replacement of any sprinklers that have operated or been damaged. Having replacement parts available reduces the amount of time the sprinkler system has to be shut down and the building or area left unprotected.

The types and temperature ratings of the spare sprinklers should correspond directly to those used in the facility. Spare sprinklers should be stored in a cabinet and should not be subjected to temperatures above 100° F at any time. A special sprinkler wrench for each sprinkler type should also be maintained in this cabinet for removal and installation.

How Many Spare Sprinklers Are Needed?

The quantity of spare sprinklers available to the facility should correspond to the total number of sprinklers installed. A minimum of two sprinklers of each type and temperature rating should be provided in the spare stock.

Total # of Installed Sprinklers in Facility Total # of Spare Sprinklers Needed
Less than 3006
300 to 100012
More than 100024

State and local statues, codes and regulations may require licensing of persons who conduct inspections, maintenance or tests on fire sprinkler systems. Contact your local fire code official or legal representative regarding possible restrictions before performing any tasks related to the fire sprinkler system.

The following are the most common temperature ratings of sprinklers:

Temperature Rating in Fahrenheit Color CodeGlass Bulb Color
135-170Uncolored or BlackOrange or Red
175-225WhiteYellow or Green
250-300BlueBlue
325-375RedPurple

It’s important to replace sprinklers with the same type. Sprinkler types include, but are not limited to:

  • Standard Upright
  • Standard Pendant
  • Sidewall
  • Quick Response
  • Extended Coverage
  • Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR)
  • Residential
  • Large Drop
  • Open

If your sprinkler type or temperature rating is unknown or unclear, contact a fire sprinkler contractor for assistance.

What to do Before the Fire

You can minimize the impact of a fire by being prepared. Preparations should include the development of a fire prevention plan and an emergency action plan. The fire prevention plan will help reduce the frequency and severity of a fire event and the emergency action plan will provide actions for occupants to take if a fire does occur. Appropriate inspection, testing and maintenance of your fire sprinkler system will also help keep your system ready when needed.

What to do During the Fire

Evacuate—When a fire reaches sufficient size to activate a sprinkler, water will flow through the system and an audible flow alarm should sound. After the alarm sounds, or fire is detected prior to sprinkler operation, the first response should be the implementation of the fire related procedures in the emergency action plan. This should include evacuation, contacting the Fire Department and other emergency duties.

Open the Valves—A knowledgeable person should make sure the fire sprinkler control valves are open if they are on the evacuation path out of the building.

What to do After the Fire

Restore Sprinkler Protection Promptly—The Fire Department’s chief officer on site should be the person to order the shutdown of the sprinkler system control valve when it has been deemed that the fire has been extinguished. If the sprinkler system is a dry pipe or pre-action system, the services of a licensed fire sprinkler contractor should be obtained to restore the system to normal operation.

If the system is a wet pipe type, the knowledgeable person may conduct the restoration process by following the steps below:

  • Verify the control valve is closed
  • Open the main drain valve
  • Close the main drain valve when water stops flowing from the open sprinklers
  • Replace the sprinklers that have operated with new sprinklers of like style and rating
  • Keep spare sprinklers on hand. The supply should include all types that are in use, as there may be different temperature ratings, different orifice sizes and orientations
  • Open the main control valve and the inspector’s test valve located at the remote end of the sprinkler system
  • When water flows steadily from the inspector’s test valve (showing the system is full of water), close the inspector’s test valve

Contact Us

Have a question about safety or our loss control services? Email us.

Email Loss Control

Building Sensors to Protect Your Organization

HSB Sensor Systems monitors your facility 24/7 and alerts you whenever conditions suggest trouble.

Picture of a cell phone