As a small business owner, you hope you’ll never get a call in the middle of the night about a fire at your business. But if so, don’t you hope the damage will be minimal?

Along with a quick response by first responders, the right fire suppression system can make all the difference. Yet things have come a long way from the standard fire sprinkler systems and one-size-fits all fire extinguishers. The right choice of system can ensure you get back to business quickly, while the wrong system could unnecessarily increase the risk to your business.

Here’s what you should know:

Fire Sprinkler Systems

If your business operates out of an office building, retail store or other commercial property, you can probably look up and see fire sprinklers, the go-to option for fire safety for more than a century.

The life-saving capabilities of fire sprinklers are well known. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there have never been more than two fire-related fatalities in a building with a fully functional fire sprinkler system.

Yet even with all the benefits of sprinklers, they may not be the best solution for your small business. The water from sprinklers can cause serious damage to electronic equipment, inventory, physical archives and paper documentation. Additionally, water isn’t effective on some types of fires and can even encourage them to spread.

Wet Chemical Systems

If you have a kitchen or breakroom where food is prepared, traditional fire sprinkler systems may be ineffective for putting out some fires. Worse yet, water can cause a grease fire to spread and the common ABC-type fire extinguishers also are ineffective.

The threat of kitchen and breakroom fires can be greatly minimized with specialized wet chemical systems. These kitchen fire suppression systems are installed over cook surfaces and ventilation hood systems and discharge wet chemical agents when fire is detected. Chemicals, such as potassium acetate, potassium citrate or potassium bicarbonate, cool the metal cooktops and bind with grease and oil to form simple soap, which is easy to clean up.

Dry Chemical Systems

If your business stores flammable or hazardous materials, you’ll need a different type of fire suppression system to keep people and property safe. These non-occupied industrial areas can be protected by dry chemical systems, using agents such as sodium bicarbonate, potassium bicarbonate or monoammonium phosphate to put out flames. These materials don’t conduct electricity, which makes them a safe choice for areas where they may encounter electrical equipment.

Clean Agent Systems

While dry chemicals won’t short out electrical equipment, they can still be a mess to clean up in server rooms, data centers or delicate archives. If you have sensitive materials you need to protect, a clean agent system is a better choice. These systems use environmentally friendly materials to quickly and safely extinguish fires, without getting anything wet or leaving a residue to be cleaned up.

Some systems use carbon dioxide, which quickly smothers flames and deprives fires of the oxygen needed to burn, but it’s best used in unoccupied areas. Other systems use hydrofluorocarbon or halocarbon gases to absorb the heat out of the fire in a matter of seconds. Other gases such as argon and nitrogen are used to reduce the oxygen level near flames to put out fires. Hydrofluorocarbon, halocarbon, argon and nitrogen systems are all perfectly safe to use around people.

More Fire Suppression System Tips 

Fire suppression systems can help protect your business from the devastation of fire and smoke damage, and automated systems can do so even when you close for the night. Still, other elements of your system play a vital role.

Fire alarms work together with systems to safely evacuate people from danger, and 24-hour fire monitoring services can dispatch first responders when needed. However, simple portable fire extinguishers also have a role to play. Using the right type of portable fire extinguisher on a fire within the first two minutes often avoids the costliest damage, helping to extinguish the flames or contain the spread of the fire until the fire department arrives.

As a small business owner, any fire can be devastating. But you can help protect your business, employees and customers by having the right fire suppression system installed and properly maintained. Every business is different, so it’s important to choose the right system or systems that meet your needs.