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Posted on: February 7, 2024

Fire Marshal’s symposium aims to improve fire sprinkler system freeze protection

Robert Lee addresses attendees in council chambers

The Boerne Fire Marshal’s Office hosted a symposium Feb. 6 to connect property managers and owners to contractors with the goal of improving fire sprinkler system freeze protection.

South Texas has experienced more frequent and longer lasting freezing weather conditions in recent years which has led to a significant increase in fire sprinkler pipe breaks and response calls from the Fire Department.

The main purpose of February’s symposium was to propose cost effective, code compliant solutions for upgrading freeze protection of fire sprinkler systems to prevent loss, increase safety, and reduce emergency call volumes during critical periods.

“All these factors, from property damage to the strain on emergency resources, highlight the importance of ensuring fire sprinkler systems are prepared to weather these extreme cold events,” Fire Marshal Robert Lee said. “It is our mission to achieve zero line breaks through collaboration with contractors and those who manage and own properties with these systems.”

The winter storm of 2021 caused 61 fire sprinkler/fire line breaks in Boerne, resulting in 110 runs from Fire Department crews. The most recent winter storm in January of 2024, which last just a few days, caused 17 fire sprinkler/fire line breaks, resulting in 59 crew runs.

Lee walked the group of about 45 attendees through the relevant fire code requirements as it relates to sprinkler systems before introducing the fire sprinkler installation and repair contractors in attendance. Property managers and owners posed questions to the group and then had the chance to connect with contractors once the meeting ended.

Boerne Fire Captain Adam Zenner spoke to the group about the department’s operational response to these incidents. Zenner explained that when they get an alarm for a fire sprinkler system indicating water flow, it could mean the system is suppressing a fire. This requires a response from fire crews as if they were going to put out a fire.

However, the alarm calls can also come in when there is water flow due to a line break – something crews won’t necessarily know until they get to the scene. When dozens of line breaks occur in a short amount of time, it creates a significant strain on personnel and their ability to respond.

“When this happens, there are multiple calls going on at the same time. Our department is seven strong per shift, going to eight soon,” Zenner said. “That tells you how we’re spread thin during an incident like this when we have crews at different spots, and we’re out of the game for emergencies because we’re dealing with broken pipes.”

Property management teams and owners who can identify these issues and work in partnership with a reliable contractor will ensure the longevity and effectiveness of their sprinkler systems.

If you have any questions about winterizing a fire sprinkler system, call the Fire Marshal’s Office at (830) 248-1512 or email the Fire Marshal.

Adam Zenner and Collin Rogers

Captain Adam Zenner and Fire Inspector Collin Rogers.

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