This chapter briefly discusses the process and tools for managing institution fire risk, including many references to documents such as NFPA consensus standards for specific in-depth and current information.
Design techniques and construction materials greatly reduce risk of injury or death from fires. Facilities managers must consider both possible (catastrophic) loss of life and the cost of replacement, repairs, restoration, lost revenue due to outage, and damage to reputation (collectively, severity of fire risk).
Managing Fire Risk. Fire risk (expected loss from fire of a given severity) is different from fire hazard (condition or conditions that could lead to a fire starting or spreading). To describe fire risk (or any risk class), both event frequency and severity must be described. In a fire risk management program, facilities managers must comprehensively identify potential losses and measure (or estimate) impacts, requiring assessment of probability of fire losses, which, over a period of time, enables assessment of frequency and then cost-benefit analyses (including indirect and intangible costs) to identify cost-effective risk reduction methods.
Comprehensive fire risk assessment and management balance prevention, protection, and emergency responses within the institution and from local emergency response personnel. Fire risk mitigation strategies prevent some losses and reduce frequency and severity of others. Plans for fire risk management cover fire protection device installation and maintenance, inspection, testing, and eventual replacement, creating confidence and showing tangible evidence of compliance with standards and codes.
Chemistry of Fire. Fire is a complicated chemical reaction, but is described as a triangle (fuel, oxygen, heat). If one is absent, fire cannot start; if one is removed, fire collapses. Three core components are the reaction (fire), reaction-produced ionized gases (flame), and airborne byproducts (smoke). Each affects life and property; facilities managers must understand fire protection systems to control them. Some inert agents (e.g., halon) break the chain reaction; fire experts refer to a fire tetrahedron for the full range of fire protection (e.g., halocarbon-based suppression systems). The liquid or solid part of most fuels does not burn; fuel vapors ignite and spread flame. Fire heat often drives more flammable gases and vapors from a fuel, smothering, cooling, or excluding oxygen to extinguish it. Some metals (e.g., sodium, lithium, potassium, calcium, magnesium) burn without vaporizing; conventional extinguishers exacerbate this fire type.
Types of Fire. Fire prevention engineers identify fire type by fuel hazards, with five classes. Solid fuels (e.g., paper, cardboard, wood, cloth, plastic, skin, hair) are Class A. Liquid fuels (e.g., oils and solvents) are Class B. Safety in extinguishing Class C fires (caused by electrical equipment sparks) depends solely on the electrical hazard. Flammable metals are Class D because extinguishing methods are substantially different than those for Class A, B, and C fires. Changes in cooking oil working temperatures (e.g., commercial kitchens) prompted Class K, with agents to extinguish flame and cool oil, preventing
Fire Prevention and Protection
Fire prevention is the most expedient way to manage fire risk and losses; prevention requires sometimes large investments. (1) To prevent or reduce fire losses, active systems (e.g., fire sprinklers and alarms, portable fire extinguishers, facility inspections) react to the presence or threat of fire with a conditioned response, and passive systems (e.g., adequate occupant evacuation egress, fire-resistive construction, flammable liquid storage cabinets) mitigate threats at all times. Passive and active measures require routine inspection and maintenance. (2) Fire prevention and protection also can be automatic (e.g., fire sprinklers, suppression systems, separation barriers) or manual (e.g., fire extinguisher).
Manual activities require frequent oversight, training, and inspections. Automatic systems require inspection and maintenance. Renovations (and occupant actions) can compromise passive barriers (e.g., fire doors). Facilities managers must understand each type of fire prevention and protection, maintain them, and support implementation when it makes good business sense from a risk control perspective.
Fire Prevention Programs. These programs use active manual measures (e.g., awareness and outreach) to prevent fires and protect property and are sponsored, conducted, and assisted by various facilities and campus groups. Employee and student fire safety efforts cross- apply to time at home (and can consider home-specific risks); because fire risk is greater at home, this is good policy and cost-effective. Monthly or quarterly campaigns emphasize specific focal-point fire hazards, particularly at certain times of year (e.g., holiday season, Higher Education Fire Safety Month), often supported by special materials from fire prevention groups. Codes mandate some fire prevention actions; many are a product of experience; and U.S. higher education institutions receiving federal tuition grant and loan funding must document fire prevention and protection programs in on-campus student housing.
Nationwide, municipalities, counties, states, and the federal government apply building and fire codes to govern new construction, renovation, and fire safety. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is primarily responsible for identifying prevailing codes, modifying them, and ensuring that local businesses comply.
History of Codes. Major fires in early American cities (e.g., Great Chicago Fire in 1871) inspired many building and fire codes and very high insurance rates and premiums, but insurance companies suffered great losses when fires spread out of control. In 1866, insurance companies formed NBFU to emphasize safe building construction, fire hazard control, and improvement in water supplies and fire departments by setting standards and rewarding complying customers with lower premiums. NBFU issued NBC, the first recommended building code, in 1905; NBFU has compiled and analyzed fire incident information to update codes and could improve that process with better and more complete data.
Building Codes. A building code is a set of standards for minimum design and construction requirements to protect the health and safety of the building occupants, general public, and building owners. Codes often specify how the builder and owner address structural design, fire protection, egress, light, sanitation, and interior finishes. The two types of codes are specification codes (dictating materials in building design and construction but requiring less testing and certification) and performance codes (establishing objectives and leaving methods and materials to designers and builders, with inherent flexibility but often strict testing). Recent building codes focus on minimum requirements for structural stability, means of egress, fire resistance, sanitation, lighting, ventilation, and built- in fire safety equipment. Building code groups publish building code versions (e.g., ICC’s IBC and IFC; NFPA Life Safety Code). Some AHJs continue to enforce legacy codes. NFPA has a model building code (NFPA 5000), adopted by a few AHJs.
Building Classifications. Fire protection codes and insurance programs classify structures related to fire resistance (based on construction materials) to determine fire protection requirements and premiums. Early code classifications were fireproof or non-fireproof; now, the goal of modern fire code structural fire protection requirements is optimum fire-resistive design balanced against fire severity. NFPA 220 classifies buildings based on components and contents.
Fire Prevention Codes. NFPA publishes more than 300 codes, standards, recommended practices, model laws, manuals, and guides, The complete collection (NFPA
National Fire Codes) addresses prevention and protection and includes internationally accepted codes and standards, such as NFPA 70 (electrical), NFPA 30 (flammable and combustible liquids), NFPA 54 (fuel gas), and NFPA 1 (fire).
Life Safety Code. This code (NFPA 101) addresses design and operation factors that affect safe egress. It does not contain any measures for protection of property or requirements for building safety but does refer to such standards from the NFPA National Fire Codes and cites 12 underling principles.
Other Prevalent NFPA Codes. IBC, IFC, NFPA 1, and NFPA 101 incorporate many other NFPA codes and standards by reference; facilities managers must understand which apply and how to meet relevant expectations.
Occupancy Classifications. NFPA and building codes distinguish between building uses and building parts. The Life Safety Code differentiates by type of use (occupancy type) and hazard of contents (low, medium, high). Occupancy and hazard often drive substantial differences in Life Safety Code fire protection requirements and associated system codes and standards.
Hazard Classifications. NFPA codes distinguish among hazards of occupancy based on quantity, combustibility, and physical and health hazards of contents and on flame spread potential. Most fire codes (e.g., sprinkler codes) differentiate among hazard levels in occupancies, often driving requirements for fire protection systems. Facilities managers must review each code, as interpreted by the local AHJ.
Following construction, buildings and occupants rely on fire suppression to further reduce fire hazard. Manual and automatic fire suppression systems each serve a specific fire hazard mitigation role. The portable fire extinguisher is the principal manual suppression system, but fire hoses are available in some building occupancies. Fixed suppression systems (e.g., sprinklers or inert agent, clean agent, or water-based systems) provide automatic protection and code relief. Sprinkler systems have a track record of protecting life and property and are often mandatory for new construction. All fire suppression systems require specialized training and usually licensing for installation, inspection, and maintenance. Fire suppression system selection and installation depend on type of facility fire risk, and expected fires must match actual occupancy (types of fuels, fires, examples, and means of extinguishment in Figure 2.16).
Figure 2.16. Types of Fuels and Fires
|Wood, paper, cardboard, plastic, skin, hair, clothing
|Water Dry chemical
|Oil, gasoline, kerosene, solvents
|Dry chemical Foam
|Sparking equipment or services
|Dry chemical Inert agent
|Lithium, sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium
|Oils and greases
Portable fire extinguishers are nearly ubiquitous in commercial occupancies, residences, and vehicles. They give occupants a tool to attack an early stage fire, often reducing spread or extinguishing small fires faster than a building fire hose line response and much faster than local fire service response. Facilities managers must understand different types of portable fire extinguishers and their placement, inspection, maintenance, and use as required for occupancy and fire hazard risk (including quick and easy access). IFC and the Life Safety Code require selection and placement of portable fire extinguishers per NFPA 10.
Extinguisher Rating System. Portable fire extinguishers have ratings based on response to each of the five fire classes. Numerical ratings are assigned to Class A (1A through 40A) and Class B (1B through 640B) extinguishers; Class C ratings confirm nonconductive extinguishing agents; Class D ratings vary with the combustible metal under test (noted on faceplates); and Class K ratings carry Class A and B numerical ratings. UL, ULC, or both conduct tests. Extinguishers effective on more than one fire class have ratings with multiple letters or both numerals and letters (except for Class D, prohibited by code).
How Fire Extinguishers Work. All portable fire extinguishers operate on the same principle and basic equipment (e.g., storage vessel, handle, safety pin, operating lever, discharge nozzle, siphon hose, and pressure gauges except for some inert agent extinguishers). On valve activation, expellant gas under pressure forces a charge of agent (solid, liquid, gas) out a siphon hose through the valve to a nozzle.
Types of Portable Fire Extinguishers. Each of the many available portable fire extinguishers mitigates a specific fire risk (Figure 2.17).
Selection and Replacement of Fire Extinguishers. Selection of portable fire extinguishers depends on many factors (e.g., hazards, fire severity, atmospheric conditions, available personnel, ease of handling, site- specific concerns). If code requires installation of extinguishers, they must protect against Class A fires and must address Class B, C, D, and K fire hazards (if present). Fire risk severity generally depends on type of occupancy operation and quantity of flammable liquids or other hazards. Ease of handling is key in selection and placement. Facilities managers need to balance occupancy hazard with required extinguisher capacities, including capability of occupants to use extinguishers.
Using Portable Fire Extinguishers. Facilities managers must understand portable fire extinguisher placement in a specific occupancy (e.g., code or insurance requirements). If the institution assigns fire and emergency response duties to employees (versus automatic fire suppression systems or a policy to let unprotected property burn), safety regulations can require provision of training and equipment. Employee training includes fire types, extinguisher types, how to use extinguishers (and when not to), and what to do if the fire does not respond. Extinguishers come in many shapes, sizes, and types, but procedures for each are similar (with the PASS reminder for pull, aim, squeeze, sweep); operators do need to be familiar with detailed instructions on specific extinguisher labels. Available advanced live-fire training tools for fire extinguishers are realistic but expensive and need maintenance. Most municipalities require the institution to notify the AHJ when an uncontrolled fire occurs. Facilities managers also must notify the maintenance unit responsible for extinguisher inspection and maintenance when an extinguisher is used.
Figure 2.17. Types of Portable Fire Extinguishers
|Expellant Gas (psi)
|Discharge Time (seconds)
|Ammonium phosphate Potassium bicarbonate Sodium bicarbonate
|A, B, C
|Carbon dioxide (~2,200)
|High-pressure cylinder delivering cryogenic temperatures
|Keep from freezing
|Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF)
|Keep from freezing
|Other existing foams for specialty applications
|Halon (1211 or 1211-
|No longer manufactured
|Potassium acetate Potassium carbonate
|Sodium chloride Silica
Inspection and Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers. Code requires monthly inspections and annual fire extinguisher maintenance. Inspections check location, accessibility, obstructions, lock pins and tamper seals, instruction legibility, agent pressure, inspection tag, and hose condition. Maintenance checks include basic extinguisher components (mechanical parts, extinguishing agents, expelling means), with accurate records (e.g., month, year, type of maintenance, last recharge date). Fire extinguishers have long-term costs and maintenance requirements, so facilities managers must consider whether they are key to the fire risk management plan (including opportunity costs).
Fire Sprinkler Systems
Automatic Sprinkler Systems. These systems have protected business and industry from fire for more than 100 years and now are effective and reliable if properly installed and maintained. Almost every type of occupancy has sprinklers, and fire protection engineers view them as the most useful and reliable fire protection method. Building and fire codes frequently require installation of automatic sprinklers (e.g., in schools, nursing homes, high-rise buildings, apartments, residences). Local codes require installation of automatic sprinklers based on building occupancy, construction type, and size (typically when it exceeds an area limitation). Sprinkler systems can fail to control or extinguish a fire (e.g., closed valves, frozen or inadequate water supply, obstructed sprinkler discharge, impaired sprinkler heads). Facilities managers must ensure accurate design, installation, maintenance, and repair and must modify sprinkler systems when building occupancies and uses (and especially floor plans) change.
Standards Related to Automatic Sprinkler Systems. NFPA has standards relating to design, installation, maintenance, and inspection of sprinkler, standpipe, water spray, deluge, and pre-action systems as well as fire pumps (e.g., NFPA 13, 13D, 13R, 14, 15, 20, 24, 25). Local building and fire codes (whether NFPA or ICC) often incorporate these standards by reference. Facilities managers must ensure that new system installations, retrofit systems, and revisions to existing systems all meet current code.
Sprinkler Systems. Automatic sprinkler systems are the most reliable form of fixed fire protection. They have many components designed and sized for specific functions. Most building fire protection systems use pipes charged with water, but other configurations support other structure types. Coverage can vary.
Sprinkler System Effects on Life Safety. NFPA has not yet recorded a multiple-death fire in a building with properly operating full sprinkler coverage; the few recorded fire fatalities resulted from asphyxiation, fires that did not trigger the sprinklers, or injuries before sprinkler activation. Sprinklers reduce business disruption and water damage. Per Factory Mutual, activation of five or fewer sprinkler heads controls about 70 percent of all fires. Sprinkler systems seldom fail but can perform improperly because of factors such as insufficient water supply, damaged sprinklers, or blocked pipes.
Components and Operation of Automatic Sprinkler Systems. Sprinkler coverage can be complete (entire building) or partial (e.g., high-hazard areas, exit routes, places designated by code or the AHJ).
Sprinkler System Design. NFPA 13 sets design and installation criteria for sprinkler protection (e.g., spacing, pipe sizing and hanging, minimum design area engineers must use to calculate the system). It allows sprinkler design based on pipe schedule (past experience in other occupancies) and hydraulic calculation (software to optimize pipe diameters and lengths, used in most modern installations).
Sprinkler System Fundamentals. Basic elements in the many sprinkler system types and designs include feeder main, backflow prevention valve, sprinkler valve, riser, fire department connection, area isolation valves, feed mains, cross-mains, branch lines, and sprinkler heads; each valve has a drain. If needed, a fire pump provides pressure to the main riser between the backflow prevention valve and sprinkler valve.
Sprinkler System Components. These components are (1) sprinkler storage, governed by code; (2) water supply (e.g., gravity or pressure tank, secondary water source), often public system with enough volume, pressure, and reliability; (3) backflow prevention devices, required by most municipalities to protect their supplies from contamination; (4) control valves, including main water control valves and cutoff valves (e.g., for inspections, maintenance), code requirements (e.g., alarm system, periodic checks), and any interconnections with fire alarm systems; (5) operating valves, such as globe, stop or cock, check, and automatic drain valves; (6) water flow alarms, indicating that water is moving in the system in response to operation of the alarm check valve, dry-pipe valve, or deluge valve; (7) fire department connections, alerting local responders needed for fires (most sprinkler systems control fire temporarily), pipe breaks, or other problems; and (8) sprinkler heads, with three basic designs (pendant, upright, sidewall) and a number of water release mechanisms (e.g., fusible links, glass bulbs, chemical pellets, quick-response).
Types of Sprinkler Systems. Four types of sprinkler systems are in widespread use. (1) The wet-pipe system is the simplest, requires little maintenance, keeps water under pressure at all times, and is used in locations not prone to freezing (or with antifreeze). (2) The dry-pipe sprinkler system keeps air under pressure in the pipes, releasing water only when a fire actuates a sprinkler. It is most useful in areas where freezing occurs. (3) The deluge sprinkler system (and its partly open and partly closed variation) discharges water from all open sprinklers in the system to douse the area where the fire originated, and usually protects highly hazardous occupancies, and often requires high pressure and a can require a fire pump. (4) The pre- action system uses a deluge-type valve, fire detection devices, dry pipe, and closed sprinklers to prevent water damage. It needs basically the same inspection and testing as a deluge system.
Fire Pumps. All sprinkler system types require adequate water pressure for sufficient water volume to extinguish fires, and some operate with high water flow and high working pressure. If municipal water supplies cannot provide needed pressures, a fire pump can.
Code requires weekly operation of diesel fire pumps, monthly operation of electric pumps, and annual service.
Fire Detection Systems
Modern early fire detection and signaling systems reliably reduce the risk of a large-loss incident.
Types of Signaling Systems. Signaling systems vary in complexity (e.g., only a simple local evacuation alarm; local alarm combined with building services control and external agency notification to respond). System type depends on factors such as life safety hazard, building structural features, contents hazard, code requirements, and risk management.
Basic System Components. Fire detection and signaling systems are very complex, with highly technical components that need listings from a nationally recognized testing laboratory (e.g., UL, Factory Mutual) and licensed specialists to install and maintain them. (1) The system control unit (fire alarm system or annunciator panel) is the system brain, processing alarm signals from actuating devices and transmitting them to local or other signaling systems.
- Manual and automatic initiating devices send an appropriate signal to the system control unit. (3) Alarm- indicating devices respond by sounding and lighting local alarms and transmitting an emergency signal to a central station or fire department. (4) Codes require redundant primary power supply (usually the local public electric utility) and secondary power supply (usually a storage battery, generator and battery, or multiple engine-driven generators, making the system operational within 30 seconds). (5) Trouble signal indicators require power from the secondary supply (or an independent supply, but not dry cell batteries).
Initiating Devices. (1) Manual alarm-initiating devices (pull boxes) are linked to local or supervisor notification alarms (or both). (2) Automatic alarm-initiating devices continuously monitor for products of combustion but can activate when they exist in non-emergencies, requiring system design to minimize accidental activation. (3) Heat detectors identify this combustion product by using three primary physics principles (expansion, melting, detectable thermoelectric properties). They include fixed-temperature detectors (among the oldest and slowest, cheapest, least prone to false activation), bimetallic detectors (checks required after activation), and rate-of-rise heat detectors (reliable, not subject to false activation if properly placed). (4) Smoke detectors sense fire much more quickly than heat detectors, are preferred in many occupancies and residences, and come in two types, photoelectric (detecting visible combustion products via beam application or refractory application and responding more quickly to smoldering fires) and ionization (responding to all fires but more quickly to flaming fires).
- Flame (or light) detectors come in three basic types: UV, IR, or both. They respond rapidly, but non-fire conditions can easily trip them; they need a direct view.
- Fire gas detectors respond to fire-related drastic changes in chemical gas content (carbon dioxide and monoxide, gases common to all fires that can be practically monitored), are somewhat faster than a heat detector but slower than a smoke detector, and are less common than other detectors. (6) Combination detectors use various detection methods, depending on system design.
Alarm Signaling. These devices can sound locally and remotely and include (1) audible alarms, the basic function (e.g., sirens, voice messages, tones), with decibels exceeding ambient noise by code-specified levels (and variable- and high-noise area rules) and design-specified placement and power; (2) visible alarms (e.g., in high-noise environments; facilities with occupants with hearing impairments), with layout and power varying by type of space; (3) power, usually from batteries and adjusted as needed during building life and renovations; (4) remote notice to monitoring station at facility, local fire department, or remote location, requiring compatible communication (often with UL listing) between fire alarm control panel and monitoring station; (5) auxiliary functions for occupancy-specific requirements; and (6) mass notification systems, often integrated with modern fire alarm systems (but, by code, overriding it).
Special Occupancies and Uses
Computer Facilities. The information technology machine room (data center) is the nerve center of campuses, spurring development of new risk management methods. Code sets design requirements, installation, inspection, and maintenance requirements for clean and inert agent systems. (1) Halogenated inert agents (e.g., halon), once a mainstay in computer rooms, are limited by regulations banning halogenated clean agents production (because of high ozone depletion rate) and high costs. (2) Inert agent systems exclude oxygen from the fire area but also from occupants, and halocarbon clean agent systems create small quantities of corrosive gases, so occupants must exit quickly; construction methods require some gas tightness; and an open door can prevent operation. (3) Water mist or pre-action systems (and novel clean agents with low ozone depletion) are replacing halon as the primary means of protecting computer rooms from fire (when affordable). Clean and inert agent systems are expensive to refill after discharge, so abort switches near doors and detector protection during dusty work reduces accidental system firing.
Laboratories Using Chemicals. Facilities managers contend with increasingly complex laboratories and the chemicals used and stored in them. These facilities which should have the latest fire protection (e.g., special extinguishing and protection systems, fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers). Hazard severity of laboratory flammable and combustible liquids depends on quantities, volatility, open or closed to air, flammable range, containment methods, storage location, outside ignition sources, fire protection, and building construction. Laboratories are differentiated by quantity of liquid stored per unit area and overall; codes requiring second exit requirements; and whether they provide special protection for reactive and explosive risks.
Libraries and Museums. Libraries and museums present unique hazards (e.g., high fuel loads, high values, public access with nonstandard hours of business). Code requirements set recognized good practices for protecting these assets and people who use them. Because protecting the integrity of the collection is a primary goal, prevention often relies on caretaker staff (e.g., librarians, docents), and protection often uses pre-action systems to decrease water damage due to accidental discharge of sprinkler systems.
Assemblies. When 50 or more people gather for a common purpose (e.g., in churches, concert halls, classrooms, convention centers), common risks are crowds unfamiliar with the venue and egress routes, crowds prone to panic, and agendas that might pose a risk. Critical elements include means of egress and occupancy load (and flame resistance of furnishings and finishes). Codes now require specific facility improvements and operating features (e.g., crowd managers who act as first responders in emergencies).
Kitchens. Commercial cooking equipment generates vapors that can easily ignite, and high fuel loads and high temperatures can rapidly escalate fires. Ventilation offers basic fire prevention, and automatic active fire control systems using wet chemical technology add protection. If kitchen operators move or change equipment, fire protection must be updated.
Fire Protection During Construction, Alteration, and Demolition
Construction, alteration, and demolition pose the greatest risk of fire (and spread) and smoke loss (e.g., because of impairments to fire detection and protection systems; compromised fire-resistant walls, floors, enclosures). Safety-conscious construction and alteration crews improve fire prevention. The contractor must provide other methods such as fire watches (with extinguishers subject to NFPA standards), building evacuation, fuel load reduction, and alternative fire protection. Facilities managers should consult fire protection and safety professionals so that construction does not impair all fire protection systems at once.
Fire and Emergency Services
In nearly all cases, local government provides fire and emergency services for the institution. Facilities managers need to maintain regular and open communications with local fire department and emergency medical services providers so that each group understands the idiosyncrasies and capabilities of the other. If a facility is so remote or complex that it must maintain its own emergency response capability (usually a less cost-effective alternative), responders likely will fall under OSHA standards.
Liaison with Fire Department. Institutions should designate a liaison to local government emergency services who is deeply versed in ICS (used by most municipal fire services to control emergency sites). Many institutions work with local fire services to provide high-quality and focused public fire safety education campaigns that are measurably effective, especially for adult audiences; support for such programs is available (e.g., from CSHEMA, CCFS, NFPA educational section, Campus Firewatch).
Water Supply for Fire Services. Despite new technologies, water is the primary extinguishing agent because it is abundant and absorbs heat, so facilities managers need to understand water supply systems, which have two primary advantages: water is easy to move and easy to store. (1) Water department staffs often oversee fire hydrant installation, but local fire chiefs determine location, spacing, and distribution, using a general rule of thumb and applying factors such as construction and occupancy types, congestion, water main sizes, fire flows, and pumping capacities. (2) The facilities department usually is responsible for fire hydrant repair and maintenance, but the fire department often performs water supply testing and hydrant inspections. Code requirements specify recommended practices for flow testing and marking fire hydrants; facilities managers need to confirm hydrant-marking policy with the municipal fire authority. (3) Emergency services vehicles require clear access (fire lanes) to structures, per code standards. Facilities managers must ensure that access roads are well marked and clear of obstructions.