While we may not think about fire sprinklers very often, they do save lives and protect property from fire damage.
In fact they are so effective that :
- Sprinklers were effective in controlling the fire in 96% of the fires in which they operated
- The civilian fire death rate was 87% lower *
- The civilian injury rate was 27% lower *
- The average fire fighter injury rate was 67% lower *
* compared to properties with no sprinklers (according to the NFPA).
So how do fire sprinklers work?
- A fire breaks out
- The temperature at the ceiling rises (a standard sprinkler activates at 155 °F)
- The liquid filled bulb bursts, or the fusible link melts
- A plug holding back the water releases
- Water douses the fire, extinguishing it or containing it until firefighters arrive
The video below shows how a fire sprinkler operates. A common misconception is that all sprinklers in the building will operate at the same time. In reality each sprinkler is individually heat activated, and usually it only takes 1 or 2 to contain a fire.
In as little as 5 minutes a fire can reach the flashover point. In most scenarios it will be at least 10 minutes before fire fighters are on scene and fighting the fire. The graphic below shows an approximate timeline.
The video below is an example of a living room fire with and without a sprinkler installed. The first half of the video shows the sprinkler putting out the fire, with minimal damage to the home overall. The second half of the video shows a home with no sprinkler, and the fire quickly consumes the entire structure.
Sprinkler systems do require regular maintenance and inspections to be sure they will operate correctly.
Some things you should know:
- Fire sprinklers have been around for more than 100 years. You’ll find them in residential, commercial and industrial applications.
- Unlike what you’ve seen in movies, fire sprinklers don’t all activate at once. Only the sprinklers closest to the fire activate and spray water.
- Sprinklers are heat activated, smoke will not set them off.
- The amount of water discharged by a fire sprinkler is minimal (10-15 gallons per minute). Much less than the hundreds of gallons per minute used by fire department fire hoses.
Performing inspections: Qualified personnel should perform regular inspections. There are various monthly/quarterly/semi-annual/annual inspections that need to be performed.
Keep them free of obstructions: Sprinklers require 18″ clearance around them to develop a proper spray pattern.
Prevent freezing: Every year we respond to sprinkler systems freezing and bursting. The usual culprits are lack of heat in vestibules, garbage rooms, and parkades. Make sure there is adequate heat anywhere sprinkler piping exists.
Not a hanger: Avoid hanging decorations, clothes, and other items from sprinkler heads.
Taking some simple precautions to make sure your sprinkler system is being inspected and maintained, will help keep your home or workplace safe.