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Keep Your Facilities From Freezing

The ice and snow that can come with freezing temperatures can do much to damage municipal properties. Damages in climates that face less severe winter weather, like the South, are often among the costliest since workers can be less prepared to address the dangers. 

Freeze-ups can lead to damaging floods and loss of operational facilities. Here are steps that cities and towns can take before and during severe winter weather to protect their properties: 

Before winter weather 

  • Buildings – Openings into buildings should be as weather-tight as possible to prevent the intake of the extremely cold air that can lead to fire protection systems freezing. Workers should also inspect heating equipment for potential failures routinely. If the building has alarms to alert of low building temperatures, test those alarms. 
  • Tanks and pipes – Insulate piping wherever possible. Drain and close all exposed water pipes and valves. For water-cooled equipment, provide adequate heat, locate the equipment in a heated enclosure, or apply an antifreeze solution appropriate to the equipment.
  • Fire protection equipment – Equipment such as water mains, extinguishers and hydrants can be vulnerable to failing in freezing temperatures, which can prevent the containment of a fire should one occur. Workers should ensure that fire hydrants are drained, working properly and leak-free.

During winter weather 

  • Buildings – Keeping temperatures at a point where water inside the building cannot freeze can greatly help prevent damage. Monitor indoor temperatures and keep them above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and circulate air near the outer walls. Keep roof drains clear of ice and snow. Be aware of snow, ice and water accumulations on rooftops which can lead to collapses, and remove excessive amounts if there are safe conditions to do so. 
  • Air conditioning equipment – For idle AC systems, remove the water from oil coolers and water jackets. Drain the condensers of chilling units.
  • Fire projection equipment – For dry-pipe valves, deluge-valve and pump enclosures, maintain temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep outdoor sprinkler valves clear of snow.

Closing a facility during winter weather 

If a building is facing an extended loss of heat, workers need to immediately take steps to prevent freeze-ups of mechanical systems, water lines and automatic sprinkler systems. 

  • Close all affected water valves, including sprinkler valves and all fire-pump water valves. 
  • Drain fire-pump motor jackets, sprinklers, domestic water pipes, instrument pipes, process pipes, boilers, toilet water closets, heaters and coolers.
  • When using portable heaters in the building, use only those approved by Underwriters’ Laboratories, or UL, or Factory Mutual. Use them only when they can be safely supervised and where there is adequate ventilation. Use extreme caution to keep heaters away from nearby combustible material. 

When the building’s heat is restored, workers should restore fire protection systems. If water pipes have frozen, they should not use torches to thaw them. Torches can generate steam inside the pipes, which can cause explosions and large fires.