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J. Davis "Dave" Z.

J. Davis "Dave"

Lightning knocking out a sprinkler system? Really?

Community Development Specialist/Plan Reviewer at City of San Clemente

Has anyone else ever heard of lightning knocking out a sprinkler system? Wouldn't that be a game changer?

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  • May 30, 2012
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  • Paul L.

    Paul

    Paul L.

    Senior IV&V Engineer at Altran Solutions

    Lightning can knock out any kind of electronic device including fire alarms but it should have no adverse effect upon a sprinkler system. The fusible links / glass bulbs in the individual heads are thermally initiated so they should have still worked if they were exposed to a fire. Even if the sprinkler system was a pre-action system with the valve assembly linked to the fire alarm sensors, in the worst case scenario, the valve would have released upon loss of signal flooding the piping system in anticipation of a head opening. From the video footage shown it appears the fires were limited to the attic spaces which normally do not have sprinklers in them. The smoke the residents reported most likely was cold smoke that had decended from the attic fire and not hot smoke rising from a fire lower down in the dorm. It is unfortunate that the media has sensationalized this fire and said lightning knocked out the sprinkler system. Hopefully the fire report will clear up the technical issues and there won't be any knee-jerk reactions by the lawmakers.

  • J. Davis "Dave" Z.

    J. Davis "Dave"

    J. Davis "Dave" Z.

    Community Development Specialist/Plan Reviewer at City of San Clemente

    I was pretty floored by the comment about the sprinklers in the article and like you could not really think of a scenario where lightning could prevent the operation of the system. I don't think the pics were of the apartment fire they just lumped everything in one article. I am concerned about how lightning affects fire alarm systems. Anyone got any insight along that line?

  • Ivan H.

    Ivan

    Ivan H.

    Fire Marshal at City of Gaithersburg

    The apartment building sprinkler system was probably designed and installed per NFPA 13R, which means no attic protection. We've had a similar occurrence in the past few years two times in the same apartment complex (two different buildings, and within 1 week of being exactly one year apart). In both instances, a severe lightning storm in the area with a direct lighting strike to the building took out the fire alarm system and started a fire in the (unsprinklered) attic. In both cases there was significant damage to the building and multiple dwelling units displaced for some time, but no injuries or loss of life.

    It is unfortunate that whoever was reporting this story apparently was given some bad or misleading information - the media has to get their information from someone...we all need to be acutely aware that the reporters know nothing about fire protection systems and when there is an incident, the information given to the media needs to be presented in a basic, understandable fashion.

  • J. Davis "Dave" Z.

    J. Davis "Dave"

    J. Davis "Dave" Z.

    Community Development Specialist/Plan Reviewer at City of San Clemente

    Great info Ivan! Hadn't thought about the 13R/attic issue.

  • Amy M.

    Amy

    Amy M.

    Principal at Code Consultants Inc. | The Fire Protection, Life Safety and Accessibility Experts

    Interesting read. In regard to fire alarm systems...NFPA 72 has a TIA out there to the 2010 Edition:

    http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/CodesStandards/TIAErrataFI/TIA72-10-1-INC.pdf

    That should be a start for you.

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