The Spokane Valley Fire Department has noticed a rash of thefts of brass fire caps from Fire Department Connection systems at businesses in Liberty Lake.
People may be stealing them to sell to recycling companies, said Fire Marshal Greg Rogers.
The fire department uses the FDC systems, with connection points either set into the business wall or on a vertical pipe next to the building, to hook into the building’s sprinkler systems in case of a fire. That allows them to add water and boost the pressure in the system to help put out a fire, Rogers said.
Sprinkler systems are important for businesses and can stop a fire in its tracks. “If it’s doing its job, we’re just coming up to mop up,” he said.
The danger is that once the caps are missing, debris could get in the sprinkler system accidentally or debris could be shoved in deliberately. A rock or other object could block water from flowing through the pipe.
If a cap is gone, the business must do a back flush test that costs $700 to $1,000 to confirm that the system is clear before replacing the cap, Rogers said. That can take months in the case of businesses that have to go through procedures at an out-of-state corporate office, he said.
Thieves used to steal the entire brass top from the FDC pipes, but they are stamped with an FDC label and recycling facilities won’t accept them, Rogers said.
Rogers said he recommends that businesses purchase locking caps for their FDC systems. “We have a little device that releases them,” he said.
The locking caps are plastic and stamped with an FDC label, but if the brass fitting around them is removed the caps stay in place and recycling facilities will reject them, so there’s no money in stealing them anymore, Rogers said.
Plus, having a locking cap makes system maintenance easier and less costly for the business, he said. “If you use the locking caps you don’t have to do a back flush every five years,” he said.
Rogers estimates that at least a dozen FDC caps have gone missing in Liberty Lake so far. He said the Liberty Lake Police Department has been notified, and the department has checked with recycling businesses to let them know about the thefts.
Businesses who notice their caps are missing should call the fire department at (509) 928-1700 so firefighters are aware what sprinkler systems might be compromised, Rogers said. The department can also provide business owners information on how to get locking caps for their FDC systems.
It’s easier if the department knows about missing caps before they arrive to put out a fire, Rogers said. “We would be careful what we took out of the hydrant because we don’t want to take from the sprinkler system,” he said.
In a pinch, crews could try hooking up to an FDC system with a missing cap but there are no guarantees, Rogers said. “We could potentially hook up,” he said. “Some won’t work and some will work.”
The missing caps have the potential to cause big problems, Rogers said.
“If the sprinkler system is being overwhelmed, we have no way of providing that extra resource. The potential is definitely there,” he said.
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