Automatic fire sprinkler systems operate on a tried-and-tested principle - being set off by heat, Thomas Roche debunks six persistent myths.
04 September 2018 | Thomas Roche
1) When one sprinkler goes off, won't they all go off?
All sprinkler heads going off at once might have been perpetuated by Hollywood for comic and dramatic effect, but it's wrong. Sprinkler heads are individually triggered by heat.
Liquid in a glass vial expands as the temperature around the sprinkler head increases.
The vial breaks when a set temperature is reached releasing water from that head alone. This means only the sprinkler heads in the immediate vicinity of a fire will operate.
Fact: 80 per cent of fires are controlled or extinguished by fewer than six sprinkler heads.
2) What about water damage from accidental operation?
Sprinkler heads sold in the UK will go through a series of tests before they reach the market to show they do not prematurely leak; they are exposed to varying pressure changes thousands of times and temperatures changes too.
Fact: Accidental leaks from a defective sprinkler head are in the range of 16,000,000:1 - giving birth to identical quadruplets is more likely.
3) Water damage from an automatic fire sprinkler system will be more extensive than fire damage
Automatic fire sprinkler systems will start to deal with the fire, working quickly to contain it until the fire and rescue service arrives.
They limit the amount of fire damage, and also use less water than the fire and rescue service.
Water damage from a fire sprinkler system will be far less severe than the damage caused by water from firefighters' hoses dealing with a much larger fire.
Fact: A modern sprinkler releases 45-200 litres of water a minute. Fire service hoses and jets release 700-4,000 litres a minute.
4) A fire detection system provides enough protection
Fire detection systems save lives by providing a warning of fire but can do nothing to control or extinguish it.
Fact: Fire and rescue service data from the UK shows automatic fire sprinkler systems can reduce fire-related damage by an average of 50-75 per cent.
5) Can automatic fire sprinkler systems be effective at dealing with cooking fires?
This concern goes back to information we all have: do not throw water onto an oil fire. But automatic fire sprinkler systems are effective on cooking fires.
The difference here is how the water is applied with an automatic fire sprinkler system delivering a spray of water.
Fact: Fire and rescue service data shows automatic sprinkler systems were 100 per cent effective in domestic fires, which includes electrical and cooking-related incidents.
6) What about the costs?
Automatic fire sprinkler systems cost money, like any fire safety and protection features.
Installation cost is dependent on the building and occupancy to be protected but ranges between £30 and £40 per m.
It's worth thinking about these prices in terms of their impact on fire safety and protection of property over the life span of that building rather than initial cost.
The low whole-life costs of an automatic fire sprinkler system make investment attractive - they will last the lifetime of a building without major replacement or refurbishment.
Fact: Service life is around 40 years, but many systems from the 1930s are still operational.
It's time to look again at the humble sprinkler.
Automatic fire sprinkler systems are misunderstood but interrogate this and you will find they are just myths.
When a fire starts in a building fitted with a fully functioning automatic fire sprinkler system, it has a high probability of being contained from the outset, controlling or extinguishing the fire in advance of the emergency services' arrival.
Most affected buildings or businesses are fully functioning within hours. Sprinklers save lives, homes, businesses and jobs, and reduce the threat to firefighters, and the financial burden on the fire service.
Thomas Roche is secretary at Business Sprinkler Alliance.