Accidents happen. Murphy’s Law clearly states that, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Engineers, like Fire Protection Engineers, focus on all of the potential ways something can go wrong and work to minimize the possibilities. Unfortunately, some people do not share the same mindset and “accidents” happen more as a result.

Real-world system failures give fire protection engineers and building operators the opportunity to hone their skills for minimizing risk. For example, having the right set of keys can prevent you from being lowered into a manhole by your ankles.

Field Training

We had a client that was preparing for an event at their office – the VP of the company was coming into town and they wanted to give him a warm welcome. During the preparations, a wheeled scaffold used to hang decorations came in contact with a sprinkler, completely shearing off the head. The result was a flow of water, 50 gallons per minute, that sent the employees into panic mode, evacuating the building as the fire alarm horns and strobes were going off.

As the key facility manager went into action, she ran into a significant barrier. The lock on the door to the sprinkler riser closet had recently been re-keyed and she didn’t have the right key to get in. Plan B provided the solution she needed. The fire protection water supply main control valve outside of the building was about 5 ft. underground in a manhole. The facility manager was lowered by her ankles, down the manhole, to turn the valve off.

Security Guards

Another client of ours had an arc flash (electrically induced explosion) on an upper floor of their high-rise building. The arc flash triggered the sprinkler in the room which sprayed over 30 gallons of water per minute into the enclosure. Despite the lack of an actual fire, the sprinkler continued to spew water for nearly an hour. Each of the lower floors suffered water damage and the building had to close for 3 days. If the security guards on site had been properly trained, they could have turned off the valve to the sprinkler and avoided the downtime.

After the response…

Once you shut off a water supply control valve, the building’s sprinkler systems are considered to be impaired. You should know who to call when something happens. So if something breaks, make sure you already have a procedure in place and also make sure everyone has the right keys.

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