Fire Suppression vs. Fire Sprinklers: What’s the Difference?

  • November 20, 2023
what is fire suppression

The key to minimizing the damage caused by a fire is extinguishing it as quickly as possible. Since a fire can double in size in only 30 seconds, many Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) agencies around the country require buildings to contain fire protection measures. 

However, not all firefighting techniques are created equal. If you’re outfitting a structure with appropriate measures to stop or slow down a fire, you must choose between fire suppression and fire sprinkler systems. 

But what is fire suppression, and how does it differ from a fire sprinkler system? Both have the same goal of putting out fires and often use the same activation methods. That said, the two approaches extinguish flames in entirely different ways:

What Is Fire Suppression?

Fire suppression does not use water to eliminate fires. Instead, it relies on chemicals or gases depending on the requirements of the building:

1. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Fire Suppression

Fire requires oxygen to burn, and flooding an area with CO2 starves the flames. While CO2 stops fires quickly, this method is hazardous to people and animals. As such, they’re best suited for unoccupied buildings or rooms.

2. Wet Chemical Fire Suppression

In this system, chemicals combine to create a foam that chokes out fires and prevents reignition. The substances are easy to clean up, which makes this option a common choice for kitchens.

3. Dry Chemical Fire Suppression

Rather than using wet chemicals, dry chemical systems use a powder that smothers fires. Common chemicals include sodium bicarbonate and mono-ammonium phosphate, which have the benefit of being non-conductive and benign toward electronics. However, the cleanup of these substances can be time-consuming and difficult.

4. Clean Agent Fire Suppression

These systems use inert gases to displace oxygen or eliminate heat to stop fires. The benefit of these systems is that they can suppress fires without harming occupants or sensitive electronics. Common agents include Inergen, FM-200, and Novec 1230. 

The disadvantage of most fire suppression systems is that they require recharging between uses. As the chemicals run out, it’s up to building managers to ensure that the systems are ready in case of another fire.

What Are Fire Sprinklers?

In contrast to the fire suppression systems, there are four main types of fire sprinklers, with the main difference being whether they contain water in the pipes at all times or only when needed:

1. Dry-Pipe Fire Sprinklers

Until a dry-pipe system activates, no water is in any of the pipes. In cold climates where the water could freeze if left in the lines, this type of system is ideal.

2. Wet-Pipe Fire Sprinklers

These systems have pressurized water in the pipes at all times. This pressure allows the system to begin spraying water immediately.

3. Pre-Action Fire Sprinklers

Pre-action sprinklers work in conjunction with a fire detection system. It acts like a combination of dry and wet-pipe techniques. The pipes fill with water only as the system detects a fire. Once the pipes are complete, the sprinkler heads in the affected area open while the rest remain closed.

4. Deluge Fire Sprinklers

In this system, all sprinkler heads remain open at all times. Like a dry system, the pipes only fill with water once the system detects a fire. These sprinklers flow as much water as possible to put out large-scale fires.

But what if you don’t need to protect sensitive items from the harmful effects of water or don’t want to use potentially harmful chemicals in your space? In those cases, fire sprinkler systems provide a less expensive and people-friendly method of extinguishing flames. Furthermore, sprinklers can rely on external water sources to avoid recharging the system.

Get Peace of Mind with Fire Sprinklers from A&A

Fire can cause significant destruction in seconds, but you can defend yourself with a professionally installed and maintained fire sprinkler system from A&A Fire Protection. Homes and businesses in South Carolina rely on us to keep their properties safe. Contact us right away so we can do the same for you.