An engineer shares how flexible fire sprinkler connectors eased scheduling and reduced labor costs in a Children’s Hospital Los Angeles project.

The installation of flexible fire sprinkler connections greatly helped the construction process at the new inpatient tower at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. (Photo Credit: ©Adrian Velicescau/Courtesy ZGF Architects LLP)


Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Project
Size: 480,000 square feet + 85,000 feet of underground parking
Capacity: 317 beds
Cost: $636 million
Number of flexible connectors used: Approximately 4,000
Fire safety subcontractor: Northstar Fire Protection

Construction is a team effort if ever there was one.

Not only do you have to manage your company’s team, but you need to coordinate your work with the general contractor, subcontractors, engineers, architects, owners and regulators. Success results from good construction and company team management.

Smart, new technologies and methods can streamline operations and improve service. But because of the collaborative nature of the construction industry, it is critical that team partners are on board with new ideas that can affect their work.

Gaining acceptance from team partners is particularly important when the governing authority is the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. Charged with ensuring the integrity of health-care facilities construction in a state prone to seismic activity, the OSHPD Facilities Development Division has to be very vigorous in its reviews.

And teamwork most certainly came into play in Northstar Fire Protection winning the approval and cooperation of OSHPD inspectors, the general contractor, the owner and others for the installation of innovative, flexible, fire sprinkler connections at the new inpatient tower at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (480,000 square feet and 317 beds at a project cost of $636 million).

Northstar Fire Protection also used FlexHead elbow-style flexible sprinkler hose fittings in the project. (Photo courtesy of FlexHead Industries)

Los Angeles Congestion

The competition for space above ceilings encouraged the use of flexible fire sprinkler connectors.

Whether you’re involved in fire protection or some other aspect of construction, you know how difficult it is to fit your work in cramped spaces such as those above a hospital ceiling. You must be diligent to find space among HVAC ducts and piping, plumbing and medical gas piping, conduit racks, data cable trays and pneumatic tubing.

Northstar used to connect sprinkler branch lines to sprinkler heads using hard pipe armovers and drops, which can be problematic in the best of conditions. In the congested spaces above hospital ceilings, that method threatened to considerably elevate labor costs.

The FlexHead flexible connectors prevented the draining and retesting of the entire system when sprinkler heads had to be moved. (Photo courtesy of FlexHead Industries)

Selecting the Right One

Northstar’s preferred brand of flexible connectors, FlexHead, offers many advantages for the crowded spaces above the ceiling.

Without FlexHead, we’d typically have to install extra pipe and fittings as well as a hanger within a foot of the sprinkler head. The use of FlexHead allowed us to run a 6-foot connector without a hanger, making it possible to maneuver around obstructions with ease.

As is typical with a project of this scope, we had to adapt to changes after installing sprinkler heads in sections of the tower. For example, some ceiling heights were changed and some ceiling fixtures needed to be relocated. With the flexible system, we detached the FlexHead brackets, relocated the sprinklers and re-attached the brackets. Our work was completed in days instead of weeks.

When we moved sprinkler heads, we didn’t have to drain the whole system, re-pipe it and hydrostatically test it again. The FlexHead connectors permitted us to move heads without draining and retesting the system, thereby adding a “green” benefit.

FlexHead also provided the only flexible connection seismically qualified to ICC-ES AC-156 standards. It was the preferred connector because it was easy to hit the precise center of the tile and install heads flush vertically.

Northstar Fire Protection dealt with the congested nature of the hospital’s above-ceiling space by connecting water pipes to sprinkler heads using flexible connectors. (Photo courtesy of FlexHead Industries/Northstar Fire Protection)

Education and Submittals

Despite the fact FlexHead Industries has been around for two decades, the rigors of the hospital project demanded an extra level of education to make sure everyone was comfortable with this alternative to hard-pipe connections. Fortunately, most of the pre-qualifying work was already done due to the fact the flexible connectors are UL-listed, FM-approved and have gained OSHPD pre-approval for their bracket’s structural attachment to ceilings. Plus, they are listed with the California State Fire Marshal.

The submittals process is the obvious place to win approval of innovations. By including the flexible connectors in our specification, we won top-level acceptance from the owner, engineer and architect. We showed the products in our drawings, which were accompanied by FlexHead material spec sheets. Shop drawings bore OSHPD pre-approval stamps.

Our partners on the jobsite understood the approved submittals, but still had some questions about the installation.

Read above. (Photo courtesy FlexHead Industries/Northstar Fire Protection)

Partnering Up, Part II

To resolve the installation-related issues, Northstar met with OSHPD’s area and regional compliance officers, the fire and life safety officer and the project’s inspectors of record. The meetings also included team members of the general contractor, Rudolph & Sletten. As an added measure, FlexHead National Sales Manager Mike Dooley came to the jobsite to present the product and answered installation questions. With Flexhead’s support, Northstar’s efforts to gain flexible connector approval were accomplished.

At Northstar, because we’re always alert to new and better ways to reduce labor costs and improve quality, we don’t hesitate to involve our project team on new products and methods when we’re convinced everyone will benefit. Our experience with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is one example of how team members understood and accepted an innovation that benefits all parties involved.

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