Building owners don’t always realize how temporary lapses in fire protection system coverage can put their buildings at risk. An article from Fire Protection Engineering Magazine in 2008 about the effectiveness of sprinkler systems highlights a major catastrophe as a result:

A July 2007 fire in Massachusetts caused approximately $26 million in damages. The fire occurred within a three-story former mill building of unprotected construction that was used by 56 mercantile businesses and covered 350,000 square feet (33,000 square meters). The fire was believed to have started after welding was completed in the basement the day before. The building was closed at the time of the fire. A full-coverage combination wet- and dry-pipe sprinkler system was provided and protected the area of fire origin. However, a control valve associated with the sprinklers in the area of origin was closed and padlocked. With the water supply to the sprinklers shut off, the fire was able to spread and quickly overwhelm the rest of the sprinkler system. No notice of the system shutdown had been provided to the fire department, as required.

Planned Impairment

Unlike a system malfunction, building owners have time to call their local fire expert to prevent a potential disaster during a planned impairment. Construction is a common cause of fire protection system impairments, but many tenants don’t know they can minimize their potential downtimes and prevent disasters. A simple phone call to your local fire protection engineer may be all it takes to make sure everything goes according to plan.


Any sort of impairment should have a plan before it happens. Whoever has the most access to the building, like security guards, should know what to do in the case of a fire scenario or system malfunction. With training, building damage due to a fire or a fire protection system malfunction can be minimized. Unfortunately, many building operators don’t know what to do if their fire protection system malfunctions. As a result, buildings often suffer unnecessary damages and building owners experience difficulties with insurance claims.

Unknown Causes

We receive a lot of the calls at Harrington Group from building owners and operators following protocol based on a planned procedure. A facility person, security guard, or maintenance manager will ask us what they can do to minimize their exposure, and it results in saving our clients thousands of dollars in potential damages. Anything that can go wrong, will eventually go wrong. So building owners and operators should prepare their staff on how to respond to any potential fire system related issues. Fire systems training can save lives, businesses, and buildings.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.