Accidental System Discharges: Training, Malfunctions, and Non-Discharge

Posted by Lee Kaiser on Apr 20, 2017 12:31:08 PM

When a fire suppression system accidentally discharges, your employees need to know how to react at a moment's notice. A written procedure and training plan is a necessary step to equip all those in a suppression space with the right knowledge about the system they may have to deal with. In this video, ORR VP of Engineering Lee Kaiser explains the steps to a written plan, outlines malfunctions that may cause an accidental discharge, and details the dangers of non-discharge.



Lee: "We talked about the agent disconnect switch and outlined the access control. We don't want people going into suppression protected spaces if they're not trained to operate in that space, because they can accidentally set the system off. That brings up this picture here. This is at a data center. Here's the fire, the releasing panel for the system, air sampling, smoke detector, and a couple of buttons.

What's this red button that says 'exit'? When you press it, it unlocks the door so you can go out. That red button for exiting the space looks a lot like this red manual release. This is a Fike style manual release. See how close they're put together? That system dumped because somebody thought that was the door exit and they mashed it down and dumped the system.

Now right next to that is this yellow abort switch. We always suggest that you install a phone by any abort switch. A lot of data centers nowadays have rules so you can't take your cell phone into it. If you're standing there aborting and holding the abort switch, and you don't have a cell phone in your pocket, you need to have a phone to call somebody to help you out.

Written Maintenance Procedures and Training

Written maintenance procedures and training. If you have a suppression space, you should have a canned training for your own personnel so they know how to operate the system. You should also have a canned training to give to any contractors that come in to work in that space so they know either who to ask to discharge or disarm the system or what not to do so they don't cause an accidental discharge for you. All that should be written down as maintenance procedures. By the way, if you don't have that done and you have a suppression system and you'd like someone to do that, we will send out a technician and help you write those things down so you have training for your own people and for contractors.

Standard for Clean Agents

The code tells us that we need to have training NFPA 2001, which is the standard for clean agent extinguishing systems that says all persons who could be expected to operate the system shall be trained and kept trained in the functions that they are expected to perform. It also says personnel working in an enclosure protected by a clean agent system shall receive training regarding agent safety issues.

Who thinks that clean agents suck all the oxygen out of the room, by a show of hands? Oh this is a very intelligent class. There is an urban myth out there, an urban legend that clean agent systems when they discharge suck the oxygen out of the air and you can't breathe. That's not the case with clean agents. All clean agents are safe for people to be in the room with when they discharge and then calmly and orderly exit the space.


Other causes of accidental discharges could be malfunctions. Radio frequency or electromagnetic interference affecting the detectors can sometimes cause false detection. Other electrical transients, such as power surges, dirty power, lightning strikes, are sometimes just all together unavoidable. We want to try and safeguard against them, so some of the things we'd implement would be: only installing UL Listed equipment that's compatible between the UL Listed releasing panel and the UL Listed releasing devices.

Those two need to maintain their compatibility ratings, shield the panel and the circuits properly, install surge protectors in all the fire alarm circuits, and then you know about the abort switch. If you're in the room and the system goes into pre-discharge, or warning, it's perfectly acceptable to go to that abort switch, hold it down, and have a buddy start to figure out what's wrong before we let it release.

If you see that there's a fire and you don't feel comfortable addressing it with a manual fire extinguisher, then let off the button, get out of the room, and the system will automatically discharge and take care of it for you.


Another thing that we need to talk about, as we're talking about suppression systems, is non-discharge. Instead of accidental discharge, now we're going to talk about non-discharge. This gentleman over here sort of brought it up, where the actions you said you took when your system went into pre-discharge were two things: you pressed the abort switch and then you removed the control head.  

I have this little mock up that I want to share with you. This is a suppression valve for a clean agent cylinder. At the bottom this would screw into a big red tank. It's a right angle valve so when it opens gas comes up through here and out through this opening, which would be connected to pipe and downstream nozzles. On top of that, this device here is the control head. This receives the electrical input from the releasing circuit to open up, and a little cylinoid activates, and a pin fires down and opens up this valve for gas to flow out. People know that they can disconnect this instead of the agent disconnect switch.  A lot of IT folks have figured out that when they've got FM200 systems, Halon systems, or Novac 1230 systems they can just unscrew this nut and disconnect the system. 

A little more stable than the tank. We can pull this off and with this hanging off the conduit, now this thing won't discharge. We can avoid our accidental discharge, but guess what happens? You forget to put this on. Our technicians go out in the field and we find these things hanging and not connected to the tank. That's a big issue, okay?

Well now we've got a solution. In the NFPA 2001 effective January 1, 2016, so that's this year, there's a requirement for supervisory monitoring of the cylinder actuators via their position. If this control head is on top of the valve in the right position, then this device will see it. As I screw down that little nut, this little thing will open and send a signal back to the panel that everything's normal.

If it's removed you'll get a supervisory signal at the panel. One suggestion: if you have suppression systems we suggest that you do as a safety upgrade an installation of the agent disconnect switch and this so you know your system's actually armed. If the switch is turned off you'll have a supervisory signal. If the control head is removed you'll also have a supervisory signal. All the manufacturers have this. This happens to be a Kidde unit and I'm gonna pass that around."

This video concludes the segment on accidental system discharges from the ORR Protection 2016 Seminar Series. In the next chapter, we will learn about the common causes and cures for leaky sprinkler systems. If you would like to attend our seminar series in-person, visit our events page to register for a seminar near you. 

Problem 1: How to Operate Your Fire Panel

Problem 2: Causes and Cures for Trouble Signals

Problem 3: Failure to Detect a Fire

Problem 4: Causes and Cures for False Fire Alarms

False Fire Alarms: Where to Place Detectors

Problem 5: Accidental System Discharges

Topics: Suppression, Accidental Discharges

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