Fire Sprinkler Systems React To Drop In Temperature

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Something mysterious is happening around Payson -- indoor fire sprinklers are going off all over town and causing thousands of dollars in damage.

"Usually, we have one or two a year," Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi said. "But we've had nine in the last couple of days. It's very, very odd."

Although the fire department is working to figure out what is causing the sprinklers to go off, deMasi remains perplexed.

"I think it has something to do with the drop in temperature, but we've had cold temperatures before," deMasi said. "The systems are all different ages, different makers and different contractors put them in -- nothing is common to all of them."

According to deMasi, his staff has not yet come up with an exact cause, but he said that too much water got inside the system and was not drained.

Peter Cline of Payson Fire Extinguisher has been busy fixing sprinkler systems that went off at the college, police department, First American Title and the hospital.

"It was unseasonably cold," Cline said. "It hit nine degrees on Sunday and that's when the brunt of it started. This was a region-wide issue. We got calls from Sedona and Prescott also."

Cline said that it's crucial to get sprinkler systems serviced and inspected annually.

"Fire sprinklers are a proven life-saving device, and there are several types of systems and they all require maintenance," Cline said. "Sometimes that is overlooked."

DeMasi said dry systems are full of air under pressure that keeps the water out of them and then when the sprinkler head is activated due to a fire, each sprinkler head has a temperature rating threshold.

"There is a fuse in the sprinkler head that breaks and that opens the orifice on the sprinkler head," deMasi said. "In a dry system, first air comes out and the pressure drops and allows water to move in and sprays out of the head and controls the fire. Somehow water has gotten into these systems either by condensation, or if they were not installed correctly and there were some low spots where water collects. They need to be drained periodically."

"It all boils down to a good service company that will take the time to inspect the whole system," Cline said. "A variety of tests should be performed by a licensed contractor in the fire sprinkler business."

Cline said a good inspection will range from $100 to $200.

Cline said whenever it becomes cold, people need to take steps to prevent freezing.

"With any structure or dwelling where there are pipes with water, you need proper insulation," Cline said. "The thermostat should be set at 68 degrees or above."

Cline said that people sometimes turn the heat way down in rooms that are unoccupied.

"It shows the value of having an alarm system," deMasi said. "The fire department was automatically notified through the alarm company and we were able to go out and help these folks and limit some of the damage."

"On Sunday, our alarm went off," Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said. "That's how we discovered it and we got to it fairly quickly."

The police department training room was one casualty of a sprinkler system malfunction. The room had two inches of water on the carpeted floor.

According to Support Services Manager Della Bradley, groups that normally meet in the training room will have to find another location for the next month.

"Our damage is fairly significant," Gartner said.

Six inches of drywall had to be removed and the carpets are being treated to prevent mold growth, Gartner said.

Cline said the benefits of the sprinkler systems far outweigh the damage that might occur with a malfunction.

"People can give us a call or there are other companies in town that can assist them," Cline said. "It's really up to the occupant or property owner to make sure regular maintenance is done."

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