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Thread: Frozen sprinkler pipes

  1. #1
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    Unhappy Frozen sprinkler pipes

    Our federal site lost their steam plant on Monday night and the temperature droped to well below freezing. The older poorly insulated cold war era buildings quickly lost heat and temperatures dropped rapidly to below freezing inside by 3am and started freezing our sprinkler piping. Our fire protection team was notified of the steam outage but not the extent of the temperature drop until we came to work at 6am that morning. When we started walking down our systems and taking temperature readings on the pipes we advised the management team that we needed to drain as much of the sprinklers as we could ASAP to prevent any damage from freezing water in the wet pipe system. Being a federal site and having a ton of red tape and all the bells and whistles that come with that we were not released to even begin draining the sprinkler systems in these buildings until nearly noon. Although we have drained the system we still have plenty of drop downs and legs of piping which can not and did not get entirely drained. Most of it being because of sensitive equipment and areas which we just could not pull sprinkler heads and drain at the lowest points. Now our sprinkler heads have started poping off with ice slugs pushing out where the dead legs and drop downs were. We even have a spot where a drop down leg of piping has broken off the main sprinkler header. I know when the temperature finally does begin to rise above freezing we are going to have quite a mess on our hands with possibly hundreds of failed sprinkler heads, pipe joints, and fire system valves damaged by the freeze. I can honestly assume at the least we will be replacing several hundred heads and having to replace the section of piping that has already broken off. It is a mess for sure. Has anyone else had the expirience of dealing with this unlikely scenario of a wet pipe system freezing inside of a building. How much of a pain was the recovery from it? How did you bring water back into the system without turning your building into a showerstall with untested potentially damaged components failing? I have a feeling the next few weeks will be very trying and full of as much work as I am willing to take on.
    Last edited by Bigmo; 01-08-2014 at 12:04 PM.


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    Yes depending on the building how you bring it back up.

    A possibility is to hydro test it at 100, 125,150 or what pressure you pick

    With the main valve closed and someone standing at the main drain, possibly will show you where briken pipe is with out to much damage if a pipe or head breaks

    Do not know now sensitive your buildings are

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    Repair system to the best of your abilities and then pressure test it with air while dry. If it holds up you're good to go. If not, go find the leak and repair it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by captnjak View Post
    Repair system to the best of your abilities and then pressure test it with air while dry. If it holds up you're good to go. If not, go find the leak and repair it.
    I think this is the direction we are heading in today. First off we are going to have to do a 100% visible inspection to identify any visible damage we can find to document for repair. we already know we are going to have to replace several 100 sprinkler heads that were compromised or were possibly exposed to enough pressure to cause them to fail at normal operating pressure and temperatures. Due to the sensitive nature of the equipment and processes that go on in our facility we can not afford to put water into the facility until we are sure we have identified and fixed every known problem. Sounds like my weekend off will probably be no more.

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    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    I hate to sound like a *****....and I'm sure it will come over that way.....but...

    with as large a facility as this seems and such important items there....I find it amazing there is not a fully qualified sprinkler maintenance contractor involved.
    Bigmo likes this.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bones42 View Post
    I hate to sound like a *****....and I'm sure it will come over that way.....but...

    with as large a facility as this seems and such important items there....I find it amazing there is not a fully qualified sprinkler maintenance contractor involved.
    Your talking about congress

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    Quote Originally Posted by fire49 View Post
    Your talking about congress
    But Congress should have been able to handle it. They have proven quite skilled at hosing us.
    "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.Ē
    --General James Mattis, USMC


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bones42 View Post
    I hate to sound like a *****....and I'm sure it will come over that way.....but...

    with as large a facility as this seems and such important items there....I find it amazing there is not a fully qualified sprinkler maintenance contractor involved.
    That is the stance of myself and several other members of our team as well. I think the only real sound solution to the issue is to remove the system and replace it. That is also the most expensive as well as you can imagine. I am not high enough up that my professional opinion on it has carried that much weight as well but it has been noted. I believe by going in and repairing just the broken pieces and replacing the heads is not the way to go. There are obviously sections of pipng that have been subjected to greater pressures than what they were designed to hold when the ice expanded inside. They to are very suceptable to failure in the future. Another issue for the facility as far as bringing in an outside contractor is that this facility is a secure facilty and requires a secret clearance to enter unescorted. Even with a escort there are areas that they would be required to go and work which they can not without a full security clearance. As far a qualifications to maintain the system we do have those qualifications but with such a large undertaking for us to do the job it will take time. There are 8 personnel in the fire protection team here and of those only 7 of us are cleared to work inside that building. The eight guy is a new hire from December and is waiting on his clearance. A secret clearance can take up to a year from what I have seen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigmo View Post
    That is the stance of myself and several other members of our team as well. I think the only real sound solution to the issue is to remove the system and replace it. That is also the most expensive as well as you can imagine. I am not high enough up that my professional opinion on it has carried that much weight as well but it has been noted. I believe by going in and repairing just the broken pieces and replacing the heads is not the way to go. There are obviously sections of pipng that have been subjected to greater pressures than what they were designed to hold when the ice expanded inside. They to are very suceptable to failure in the future. Another issue for the facility as far as bringing in an outside contractor is that this facility is a secure facilty and requires a secret clearance to enter unescorted. Even with a escort there are areas that they would be required to go and work which they can not without a full security clearance. As far a qualifications to maintain the system we do have those qualifications but with such a large undertaking for us to do the job it will take time. There are 8 personnel in the fire protection team here and of those only 7 of us are cleared to work inside that building. The eight guy is a new hire from December and is waiting on his clearance. A secret clearance can take up to a year from what I have seen.
    OPSEC DUDE, OPSEC!!!!! You should not be discussing what clearances are involved or even the fact that you need to have one to enter the facility. I am a former Federal Firefighter that worked at "a facility" that needed a high clearance. Your concerns are certainly valid, however you guys should not be doing sprinkler maintenance unless you are performing these functions according to NFPA25 and any applicable fire codes- the DoD utilizes the ICC Code Series with local amendments. If you guys are union, I would file a grievance or even a ULP based on the fact that you are performing work outside of your professional qualifications and without training and annual refresher training. If they reject that grievance or ULP, demand to know when you will be receiving the requisite training.

    By the way we had outside vendors in all the time. Your TS facility is not the only one out there- there are plenty of vendors out there that have personnel with the required clearances to work at Federal Facilities.
    Bigmo likes this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by FWDbuff View Post
    OPSEC DUDE, OPSEC!!!!! You should not be discussing what clearances are involved or even the fact that you need to have one to enter the facility. I am a former Federal Firefighter that worked at "a facility" that needed a high clearance. Your concerns are certainly valid, however you guys should not be doing sprinkler maintenance unless you are performing these functions according to NFPA25 and any applicable fire codes- the DoD utilizes the ICC Code Series with local amendments. If you guys are union, I would file a grievance or even a ULP based on the fact that you are performing work outside of your professional qualifications and without training and annual refresher training. If they reject that grievance or ULP, demand to know when you will be receiving the requisite training.

    By the way we had outside vendors in all the time. Your TS facility is not the only one out there- there are plenty of vendors out there that have personnel with the required clearances to work at Federal Facilities.
    I understand your concern about Opsec for our faciltities. Our security entrance requirements are public knowledge. I am probably a little on the under informed side about the vendors we have available to expedite the work for us. It appears we are going to get alot of help fixing the system from outside vendors once all the necessary repairs are complete. Our team makeup does allow us the flexibility to work on and repair our systems but the magnitude of the repairs are beyond our scope. All members of our team are at minimum NICET level 2 certified except myself. I am the new guy. We have three engineers as part of our group who have Masters degrees in Fire protection engineering. Our two testers are also qualified E&I mechanics and our Fire protection coordinator include mechanics, and operations personnel. We are actually the only work group on site with the ability to write our own work packages, aprove them and then go perform the work. It gives us outstanding flexibility it is just the scope of this job is beyond our abilities to repair in a timely manner. Fortunately for us, like you said, there are vendors who are able to help us and that will be the direction we are going to head in. Today was a good day, despite being a Saturday at work. We fully restored one of our facilities sprinkler system to operation and tested it sat. It gives me great hope that perhaps our damage in the other facility was limited and we can recover it in due haste.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigmo View Post
    I understand your concern about Opsec for our faciltities. Our security entrance requirements are public knowledge. I am probably a little on the under informed side about the vendors we have available to expedite the work for us. It appears we are going to get alot of help fixing the system from outside vendors once all the necessary repairs are complete. Our team makeup does allow us the flexibility to work on and repair our systems but the magnitude of the repairs are beyond our scope. All members of our team are at minimum NICET level 2 certified except myself. I am the new guy. We have three engineers as part of our group who have Masters degrees in Fire protection engineering. Our two testers are also qualified E&I mechanics and our Fire protection coordinator include mechanics, and operations personnel. We are actually the only work group on site with the ability to write our own work packages, aprove them and then go perform the work. It gives us outstanding flexibility it is just the scope of this job is beyond our abilities to repair in a timely manner. Fortunately for us, like you said, there are vendors who are able to help us and that will be the direction we are going to head in. Today was a good day, despite being a Saturday at work. We fully restored one of our facilities sprinkler system to operation and tested it sat. It gives me great hope that perhaps our damage in the other facility was limited and we can recover it in due haste.
    How did you test water or air

    And to what pressure?

    What is the normal system / main pressure ??

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    The facility we restored fortunately did not have any damage so we did not have to perform any hydrostatic testing. We did a 100% visual walkdown of the system to observe the integrity before we restored it. Our normal operating pressure is 150 psi. Our plan forward on testing the systems in the building we know damage occured will be using 15 psi air first to check for any gross leaks. If we pass that test we will move forward with a water test. That part of the recovery plan is still being fully developed by engineering so could be subject to change. Meanwhile I get to climb in the attic all day today doing a ongoing 100% visual inspection of the system. Fun times.

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    We deal with frozen up systems multiple times every winter. The building is required to have their licensed contractor come and correct and re-charge the system. This very often entails the system remaining drained by us through the main drain only, and then sitting many hours until the contractor arrives. Typically the contractor can complete the work with one guy within a few hours and have the system re-charged (single break). Depending on the occupancy we have to either keep it closed for business/occupancy or make other accommodations where evacuation is not feasible (just had a large nursing home a few weeks ago).

    Short of the red-tape, the answer is a licensed sprinkler contractor anything else would not ensure proper re-establishment of a pretty important system.
    Lt.ACM

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    It's true, that no one can argue with the fact that workplace safety is important. With that said, a licensed sprinkler contractor will give us a peace of mind. As he is responsible supervising and prevent problems to the system.

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