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NFPA Safety Alert Regarding Antifreeze in Residential Sprinklers

Fatal fire raises concern about antifreeze

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) today issued a safety alert recommending that residential fire sprinkler systems containing antifreeze should be drained and the antifreeze replaced with water.

The alert follows a research study and an initial set of fire tests conducted after a fire incident raised concerns about antifreeze solutions in residential sprinkler systems. The incident involved a grease fire in a kitchen where a sprinkler with a high concentration of antifreeze deployed. The fire resulted in a single fatality and serious injury to another person.

“Fire sprinklers are one of the most effective ways to save lives and property from fire,” said James M. Shannon, president of NFPA. “Until we can provide further information based on additional research that is currently underway, we are urging the public to continue the use of sprinklers but to follow our interim safety guidelines by removing antifreeze if it is in their sprinkler systems.

According to NFPA, the home is the place where most fire fatalities occur, and when home sprinklers are present, the risk of dying in a home fire decreases by 83%.

Shannon said based on testing conducted, 70/30% glycerin and 60/40% propylene glycol antifreeze may provide an unacceptable risk of harm to occupants in certain types of fire scenarios, in particular kitchen grease fires. There were successful tests where kitchen grease fires were extinguished or contained with a 50/50% glycerin solution but it was felt there should be additional testing to more fully understand if there is a risk associated with 50/50% glycerin solution.

NFPA offers the following interim guidance on residential sprinklers

  • Fire sprinklers are extremely effective fire protection devices, significantly reducing deaths, injuries and property loss from fire.
  • These systems should not be disconnected.

Until the results of further testing on antifreeze are available, NFPA recommends the following:

  • If you have, or are responsible for, a residential occupancy with a fire sprinkler system, contact a sprinkler contractor to check and see if there is antifreeze in the system.
  • If there is antifreeze in the system, as an interim measure, drain the system and replace it with water only. Problems associated with freezing of sprinkler pipes can be mitigated by alternative measures such as insulation. NFPA hopes to provide further guidance based on additional testing before the winter freezing months.
  • If you are putting in a new residential sprinkler system, design and install a system that does not require antifreeze.

“We are providing this safety alert as interim guidance based on the information we have right now,” said Shannon. “As soon as more information is available, we will update the public.”

NFPA also reminded the public about basic fire safety tips for kitchen fires. All consumers should take important fire safety precautions regarding kitchen fires.

  • Have and maintain smoke alarms in your home.
  • Pay attention when you are cooking.
  • Should you have a grease fire on your stovetop, smother the fire by sliding a lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until the pan cools completely.
  • Never put water on a grease fire or use a fire extinguisher on a grease fire.
  • Never attempt to carry a flaming pan across the kitchen.

The NFPA Safety Alert Regarding Antifreeze in Residential Sprinklers and more information on this topic can be found at www.nfpa.org/antifreeze.

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Nick Markowitz July 14, 2010, 10:28 pm

    I questioned the fact that glycerin was being used in resi systems especially in light of the fact i do alot of work in petro chemical facility where i would see sprinkler company’s coming in and buy it by the drum and self mixing a very dangerous practice when not done properly.
    I knew this day was coming and no body wanted to talk about it well the tragedy has happened and heads must roll. After this gets wide enough media attention what is going to be the back lash from the community after we push for sprinklers in homes which can now kill.
    people are going to be turning them off and not using them just like the ion smoke detectors which do nothing but false and really provide no protection and have resulted in numerous
    lawsuits over deaths.
    when is code making bodies going to learn a lesson and do some real research before making a code and then having to go back and refine it 6 times till we get it right.
    listen to us guys who work in the field every day and see the problems and patterns developing.
    How many times have i written and warned about bad code planning and codes and been ignored. well the next one will be one some one gets trapped and killed in elevators with unneeded sprinkler heads because you once again failed to listen to us who actually have to go out and fix it. after it goes boom.
    its the same old story fail to plan then plan to fail. there are many out in the field who think NFPA stands for not for practical application.
    Its time to wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late with codes.

  • Robert S. Stiloski August 22, 2010, 5:40 pm

    Having inspected & approved several hundred residential sprinkler systems, the best advice is to keep all piping within the insulated envelope of the house. That is out of exterior walls and attics, if possible. In addition, use fiberglass pipe insulation. It has a superior insulation value.The only failures that I found were the result of installers rearranging piping from approved plans.

  • Thomas Guideron January 15, 2011, 10:44 am

    How does replacing the antifreeze system with water only help in this specific case study. It was a kitchen appliance grease fire and the use of water alone will only increase the intensity of the fire. Thus ensuring the appliance fire will communicate quickly into a room and contents fire.

    The thought that a grease fire caused a death should not be the blame of the installation of a sprinkler system, the fire should have been properly attended to long before the heat signature caused the first head to open regardless of agent type.

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