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Fire Suppression Systems - The Basics

A fire in a warehouse can be devastating. To combat and minimize this risk, fire suppression systems are installed. Each system is designed for particular tenants, so knowing a little about your system and the maintenance it requires could be the difference between losing part or your entire product. ESFR, Dry, Wet, In-rack, the list goes on. Below, we have outlined some of the most common systems as well as their advantages and disadvantages to give you a guide on whether the system you have in place is adequate for such a calamity.

Dry Pipe Fire Sprinkler System

Pipes are filled with pressurized air or nitrogen, instead of water. The air hold a dry pipe valve

located in a heated space. This valve prevents water from entering the pipe until a fire triggers the system to operate. Once activated, the air is released and water enters the pipe for disbursement.


  • Great for unheated warehouses if freezing is possible


  • Increased complexity since additional control and air pressure equipment is needed

  • Increased fire response time - Up to a minute before the gas is released and water is discharged, which could lead to more property damage

Wet Pipe Fire Sprinkler System

Wet Pipe systems are the most common in older buildings. Water is always within the sprinkler piping. When activated, water is immediately discharged onto the fire.


  • Wet system is simple and reliable. Less components = Less malfunctions

  • Relatively low installation and maintenance cost

  • Easy to modify - Can simply drain pipes and make changes

  • Easy to restore after use


  • Not suited for environments that could freeze

  • Leaks can potentially cause damage to product

ESFR (Early Suppression Fast Response Fire Sprinkler Systems)

These high output and high volume (100 gallons per minute) systems are common in most new warehouses. ESFR systems can replace in-rack fire sprinkler systems and are predominately used for high piled storage. They can protect a variety of products including some high hazard commodities such as rubber tires. While most other systems are designed to suppress a fire, ESFR systems are meant to extinguish them.


  • Gets rid of the need for in-rack systems

  • Allows for rearrangement of racking without costly reconfiguration

  • Protects large variety of commodities

  • Meant to extinguish fire, not suppress


  • Intolerant of obstructions (trusses, light fixtures, ductwork), so careful coordination is necessary for proper use

Pre-Action Fire Sprinkler System

Same basic concept as a dry pipe system but water is instead held from piping by an electrically operated valve known as a pre-action valve. This valves operation is controlled by independent flame, heat or smoke detection. The most common application for this system is in freezer warehouses. Other great uses are places that store archives, fine art, and computer/data centers.


  • Dual action required for water release (pre-action valve must operate and sprinkler heads must fuse). This means added protection if one or the other is accidently discharged.


  • High installation and maintenance cost

  • Modifications are more difficult

  • Higher complexity can result in increased chance of something not working when needed

In-Rack Sprinkler System

Specifically designed for warehouses with racked storage areas. This system is a network of piping installed within the rack structure.


  • Can contain a fire to a particular area and extinguish it

  • Can be used when certain storage configurations or building types will not allow for ESFR (example: if the building exceeds 45 feet in height)

  • Reduced water demand since there are more sprinklers


  • Modifications are more difficult

  • Potential for accidental discharge

Deluge Fire Sprinkler System

Similar to a pre-action system except sprinkler heads are open and the pipe is not pressurized with air. Connected to water through a deluge valve that is opened by the triggering of smoke or heat detection systems. Used in high hazard areas where high velocity suppression is necessary (examples: aircraft hangers, processing facilities). All nozzles are open when water is released in the system. Some nozzles also mix foam with the water to help control the spread of a fire.


  • Good for high hazard areas

  • Help control risk of the fire spreading


  • All nozzles open when water is released

Quell Fire Sprinkler Systems

Designed for cold storage/unheated warehouses and uses a surround and drown method. Although adapted for freezers, it is also good for high piled storage.


  • Works well with high piled storage (up to 48 feet)

  • Can deliver specific density of water within a time delivery requirement

Vortex Fire Suppression Systems

Newest system available on the market. Uses both water and nitrogen evenly to extinguish fires. Vortex uses small water drop that absorbs more heat, while nitrogen reduces the oxygen feeding the fire.

Potential Uses: Power facilities, automotive facilities, industrial facilities, data centers, and museums


  • Greenest fire extinguishing method (Water used at 1 gallon per minute! Also ozone depletion of 0!)

  • Smaller water drops mean minimal wetting

  • Nitrogen is safe to use with people in room

  • Even though it uses gas, no sealed enclosure is needed

  • Design flexibility

C02 Fire Suppression Systems

Preferred choice for a multitude of critical facilities. Consists of one or more banks of cylinder storage containers to supply the CO2 extinguishing agent. Discharge hoses connect the cylinders into piping.

Potential Uses: Research facilities, electronic operations/production, automotive, and metal production


  • Fast Delivery

  • Efficient

  • Non damaging

  • Environmentally friendly

  • Effective on a wide range of materials

Foam/Chemical Suppression

These systems are used when there is a possibility of a liquid fire. (Foam mixes with water to cool and smother the fire. Can deliver foam through a bladder tank or a foam pump.)

Potential Uses: Flammable liquid storage, aircraft hangers, warehouses


  • Proven to control flammable liquids

Gaseous Fire Suppression (FE-13, FM-200, NOVEC 1230)

These systems include a fixed amount of agent stored under pressure in containers that are released into the pipes. Agent concentration levels must be maintained for 10 minutes to prevent the fire from reoccurring. Gaseous fire suppression systems are used in special hazards and sensitive areas. Halon has been eliminated as a gaseous fire suppressant agent and has been replaced by clean gas agents.

Potential Uses: Location containing any high value commodity, data centers, and museums


  • Safe for people

  • No residue

  • Eliminates water damage

  • Electrically non-conductive and non-corrosive

* 2015 VFP Fire Systems

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