Forensic Investigation of a Sprinkler Failure

A building sprinkler is either a wet or dry system or a combination of both and is a major component of life safety in a building. In a wet system, water in the sprinkler pipes is released when a  sprinkler discharges. Piping in a wet system must not be allowed to freeze because a pipe rupture can result.  A dry system, which comprises piping with air not water in it, can be placed in areas of a building where freezing temperatures may occur.  In a dry system, the air is pressurized and when a sprinkler discharges, the air pressure drops triggering water flowing into the pipe. This sprinkler system in a building, when maintained properly, is a silent protector and normally causes no problem.

If a sprinkler discharges and no fire is present, maintenance, installation and/or impact to components are all suspect and will be examined in a forensic investigation to determine the cause of the discharge.  For installation and maintenance issues, the building code and NFPA 13 are excellent documents to review.  Impact issues require detailed on site analysis in respect to cause and effect.