Question regarding firefighting/fire code

First some background… I spent 7 years in the Navy, and was trained in a lot of firefighting theory and tactics. You’ve heard the adage ‘Every Marine is a rifleman’. Well, if so, then every sailor is a firefighter, and shipboard fires were everyones worst nightmare for the most part, so i tend to take fire safety very seriously.

I work in a factory that produces ink, that use a variety of solvents as a base, most of which is alcohols of one type or another, with a few petrochemical derivatives thrown in for good measure. Not a problem… the place is pretty safety conscious overall. Except this weekend, one of the guys accidentally broke off a sprinkler head. No big deal, just a lot of water spraying out, we shut down operations, shut the sprinkler water off, replaced the head, and went back to business.

Something bothered me though, and it struck me later that day… It was indeed only water coming out of the sprinklers. I find this worrying, because one of really important lessons that was beat into my head was that you never just use plain water on flammable liquid fires… The flammable liquids float on/get splashed around by the water, and rather than help, it can actually make things worse by spreading the fire around, and I was understandably(imo) upset that the sprinkler systems didn’t have a foaming agent in them.

But then I thought… Most of what we use aren’t petrochemicals that will float on water… Its mostly alcohol which mixes with water.

I suppose my question is… Is this something I should be worried about? Or am I just ignorant on the proper way to fight alcohol fires, a subject I admit I was never trained on.

The factory should have a Health and Safety Officer (or whatever his exact title is): bring it up with him. I believe there should be both kinds of systems, having both kinds of flammables.

Nava, Chemical Engineer

Try this- get some alcohol, set it on fire. Add water. Once it gets to more than 50% water, the fire goes out.

Yes, but they don’t have only alcohol. Same as the fire systems have to include hand extinguishers which are appropiate for electric fires, there also has to be a system in place for when a non-alcohol solvent catches fire.

The goal of the sprinkler is to drench or flood the fire out. Even with flammable liquids, with enough water, the fire will go out. The sprinkler head, once activated, will never shut off (even when the fire is out), until the sprinkler system is turned off manually.

You may or may not have heard of the fire triangle. It basically states you need three elements to sustain combustion - heat, fuel, oxygen. Remove just one of those and you no longer have fire. The sprinkler will cool the heat side, and dilute the fuel side by overwhelming it with water. Thus, no more fire.

Lastly, I’m sure your company is subject to the local municipal fire codes that any other businesses would be. The code should state what liquids and/or chemicals are permitted inside the building under the current fire protection. The fire inspector is supposed to ensure this when he makes his annual inspection (or whatever interval).

So if the owners/managers are doing everything on the up and up, and complying to all the codes they’re supposed to, I wouldn’t worry about it.


Sometimes, fire sprinklers are intended to keep things cool enough for the humans to escape, rather than having a primary intent of extinguishing a fire. If the fire goes out, it’s a plus, certainly.

Any sprayable liquid capable of extinguishing a Class B (burning liquids) fire is probably not the best thing to pour onto people.

I think i gave the impression that there were more of these than there actually are… Its really a very small amount.

And while there isn’t a separate sprinkler system for those, chemical extinguishers are very liberally distributed.
I’ll ask the safety guy tomorrow about it, just to comfort myself, but it seems from the responses I was worried about nothing. Good to know. :slight_smile: