Fire Sprinkler Systems – A Beginner’s Guide
From commercial and industrial settings to local authorities, schools & universities and residential properties, we are all required to strive for the highest standards of fire safety. Thankfully, there are many ways in which we can reduce the risk of fire thanks to a whole host of innovative fire safety systems.
When it comes to effectively containing a fire, an overwhelming body of evidence supports the use of fire sprinkler systems in effectively containing a fire. It begs the question as to why they can’t be found in all buildings. Perhaps believing what we see in the movies is one reason. Sprinklers which are accidentally triggered leaving an entire building awash with water is hardly what any property owner wants to risk. In reality, however, sprinklers will very rarely be triggered accidentally, nor are they all activated at once (more on expelling some movie myths later), and instead the success of such systems in having the ability to save lives far outweighs the risk of water damage. In fact, in recent years there has been a push for their increased use and just this year, as part of major reform, fire sprinklers were added to the list of mandatory fire safety systems in any building over 11 metres high in the UK. This came partly as a result of unfortunate tragic events, such as Grenfell Tower, but also as evidence supporting their effectiveness continued to grow.
The National Fire Chiefs Council recently launched an investigation into the success of sprinklers and discovered some extraordinarily impressive results. These included the ability to extinguish or contain a fire in 99% of instances in which they operated, rising to 100% success in controlling fires in both converted and purpose-built flats. The ‘National Sprinkler Week’ now runs intending to raise awareness and educate the public on their findings as part of fire safety measures.
With so much to gain from having a sprinkler system installed and with fire safety at the forefront of everything we do here at A.P.E Fire and Security, we’re here with our handy guide on how these systems actually work, those all-important benefits of having one installed and the types of buildings they are most suited to.
How Fire Sprinkler Systems Work
Sprinkler systems are activated when they detect the heat from a fire. It is important to understand that it is the rise in temperature not the smoke that triggers a sprinkler. This explains why they are not activated by burning toast or food in the office kitchen, for example.
Detection is automatic, like having a firefighter already at the scene. As the systems are connected directly to a network of water pipes, detection results in the opening of a valve, which releases pressurised water directly onto the fire.
A common misconception is that once a fire is detected, all sprinklers go off (like in the movies!) and maybe considered a reason not to install them in fear that unnecessary water damage may occur. In fact, each sprinkler is independent so only those near the fire will become activated and often it only takes a few sprinklers to control an outbreak of fire.
Benefits of Fire Sprinkler Systems
Control the spread
A sprinkler system isn’t just about alerting you to fire (although they will also be connected to your fire alarm system), it is their ability to actually control the fire from spreading that makes them so important.
Limit the damage
Preventing a fire from spreading can save vast amounts of money when it comes to repairing damage to a building and replacing any of its contents. Furthermore, the use of water also has the power to reduce smoke damage. The water cools the smoke and helps to decrease its toxicity, limiting further damage to your building, its contents and any people that may be trapped inside.
The smoke from a fire can be hugely detrimental to the environmental surroundings. By controlling the spread and cooling the smoke, sprinklers act as protection not only in the building but also to the surrounding environment.
Additional time to escape
This goes back to controlling the spread of fire. In doing so, a sprinkler system gives people more time to evacuate a building.
Findings by the National Fire Chiefs showed that sprinkler systems operate on a whopping 94% of occasions, making them hugely reliable in the fight against fires.
Once at the scene of a fire, it is of course much easier to manage for firefighters if the fire hasn’t been able to spread, the smoke has been reduced and cooled and the people inside have had a better chance at evacuating safely.
An incredible statistic from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service is that there have never been multiple fatalities in a building kitted out with a full sprinkler system in place in the United Kingdom. The same report showed that worldwide the total number of deaths in a maintained building with a full working sprinkler system never exceeded 50 compared to the thousands in unprotected buildings.
Who are Fire Sprinkler Systems Suited to?
High Rise Buildings
Mandatory sprinkler systems became a requirement for all buildings over 11 metres tall in 2020. Along with other requirements, such as consistent signage, such regulations have been considered one of the biggest reforms in building safety, putting the safety of residents or workers at the forefront of the building industry.
Aside from cost implications of fire damage, commercial buildings can see further damage to finances if a business has to close. The UK government estimates 70% of businesses damaged by fire never reopen or close within 3 years of the fire. The National Fire Chiefs Council reported that 99% of fires were either extinguished or contained by sprinkler systems making all the difference when it comes to saving your business should a fire break out.
In 2019, leading education insurer Zurich Municipal estimated more than 1,000 fires occur on school premises each year. The cost implications for larger incidents were a staggering average of £2.8million. For schools, having the highest standard of fire safety is paramount, and the benefit of sprinkler systems is unquestionable, not only on reducing cost implications but on pupil and staff safety and preventing the disruption of potential school closures on the education of young people.
One of the many benefits of a fire sprinkler system is that by actually controlling the fire, rather than simply alerting you to it, means that they give people more time to evacuate. With this in mind, care homes are considered one of the many types of buildings that can have so much to benefit from fire sprinkler systems. In Scotland, having them installed is already a requirement by law.
Learn More About A.P.E Fire and Security
Sprinkler systems are undoubtedly a highly effective and reliable way to control the spread of a fire, reduce the scale of damage and the potential risk to life in a huge range of settings. Combined with other innovative fire safety systems such as fire alarms, exit signage and lighting, extinguishers and more, we are now equipped, better than ever before, with the most intelligent and sophisticated systems to protect ourselves and others from the risk of fire.
Here at A.P.E Fire & Security, we have over 40 years of experience in fire safety systems. We support a wide range of industries, specialising in commercial and industrial as well as providing bespoke systems for local authorities, schools & universities and prestigious residential properties for their fire and security needs. All our systems meet the stringent and precise requirements outlined by the British Standards Institution (BS 5839 and EN54) and our 24/7 aftercare from our expert engineers stands us proud above the rest.
For more information, contact a member of a team today.