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Fire Protection with Sprinkler Systems

"Sprinklers Where You Sleep:
How Fire Sprinklers Protect
Your Family and Home From Fire"

Two-thirds of those who die in fires die at home. The home is where most people feel the most safe-but it's also where the most people die in fires. Every year, British firefighters respond to thousands of calls for home fires-and many of those turn out to be fatal.

Why are fire deaths in the home so common? Because people sleep there. Many fires happen at night, and many homeowners have smoke alarms installed as a precaution against fires. While smoke alarms have saved many lives, they aren't enough to protect a family from fire-especially when it's the middle of the night and the residents are awakened from a sound sleep. It can often take several minutes to wake up and get out of a burning building-and sometimes you just don't have minutes to spend.

Fire sprinklers are the only fire safety precaution that actually protects against fire, allowing residents to get out of the home safely. There has never been a single fatality in a home with fire sprinklers installed. Recently, Hampshire firefighters set out to prove it in a striking demonstration.

Hampshire Firefighters Set Two Houses on Fire To Demonstrate Fire Sprinklers' Effectiveness

In this demonstration, fires were set in the sitting rooms of two similar houses. One had fire sprinklers installed, while one didn't. In the first home, fire sprinklers activated within minutes, extinguishing the fire while it was small. In the second house, the flames quickly spread from the living room to the kitchen and other rooms. Within twelve minutes, the non-sprinklered house was almost completely engulfed.

This dramatic demonstration shows the secret of fire sprinklers' success: their quick response. When a fire starts, it sends up a plume of heat that breaks the seal on a sprinkler head. The sprinkler head links to the water pipes, sending out a deluge that engulfs the fire while it's still small.

Firefighters could put out a fire just as quickly and easily, if they could get to a burning house in time. But by the time the fire brigade arrives, the fire is usually too big to control easily. Fire sprinklers can control a fire using only a tiny fraction of the water, and usually with just one sprinkler head.

In this demonstration, damage to the house with fire sprinklers was minimal-the fire was confined to only one room. The second fire, however, was large enough to have claimed lives. It's clear that fire sprinkler systems are more effective than firefighters, smoke alarms, and fire extinguishers in preventing fire fatalities.

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Pregnant Woman Dies in
Non-Sprinklered Residential Fire

Without fire sprinklers in the home, residents leave themselves open to tragedy. That's what happened to a pregnant woman who died in a Nebraska fire in late 2006. The woman, whose due date fell on the same day she died, passed out from smoke inhalation soon after a faulty electrical cord set her mattress on fire. Her two-year-old daughter was trapped within the flat, and suffered critical injuries.

The smell of smoke woke a neighboring couple late that night. They checked their own flat thoroughly, and found no fire. Then they went into the hallway and followed the smell to the woman's apartment. They managed to get the door open. Smoke and flames poured into the hallway, and the couple could hear the two-year-old crying inside. While the woman rushed to call 911, the man tried to enter the apartment and save the little girl. But the smoke was too thick-even with a damp cloth over his mouth and nose, he couldn't see well enough to find her.

Residential fire sprinklers handle fires like this every day. If residential fire sprinklers had been installed in this building, a sprinkler head would have activated the moment the fire started, extinguishing it before it could do serious harm. In cases where bedding catches fire, and even when people's clothing ignites, residential fire sprinklers have been able to suppress the fire quickly enough to save victims' lives.

Father And Daughter Owe Their Lives
To Residential Fire Sprinklers

Luckily, not all home fires end in tragedy. A kitchen fire that started late one February evening could have claimed the lives of a father and daughter-if not for residential fire sprinklers.

The fire started when a burner left unattended ignited in the kitchen that evening. Firefighters discovered smoke, but no fire-the residential fire sprinklers had extinguished it before it could spread to other areas of the house.

Approximately half of all home fires start in the kitchen. Leaving a pan of food unattended, even for a minute, is enough to start a serious fire. Burners take a while to cool, even when turned off. It's not safe to leave a pan or anything else flammable near a burner, even when it's not turned on. Fires also start in microwaves when food is left inside too long, or when people use non-microwave-safe utensils and containers.

While many kitchen fires are a result of carelessness or inattention, they can happen even when owners take all reasonable precautions. Modern kitchens contain lots of electrical appliances, any of which could have faulty wiring that causes a spark. Gas leaks are another hazard.

There has never been a fire fatality reported in a home with residential sprinkler systems installed. With a sprinkler head in the kitchen, residents can feel safe-even in the most fire-prone area of the home.

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Couple Installs Fire Sprinkler System
After Home Fire Tragedy

A year after a tragic fire claimed the lives of their two sons, one South Wales couple isn't taking any more chances. They've installed a fire sprinkler system in their rebuilt home.

About a year ago, the couple's two grown sons were visiting for the holidays. One of the sons was a professional firefighter. Late one evening, the off-duty firefighter awoke to the smell of smoke. Rushing downstairs, he found that a fire had started in the living room. He ran to wake his parents, who had been sleeping on the first floor, then went back upstairs to wake his brother. Neither man came out alive.

Now, the couple is determined that such a tragedy will not strike again. They've rebuilt their home, which had been gutted in the fire. And they've installed a fire sprinkler system.

Home fires often start as a result of faulty wiring in electrical appliances or worn electrical cords. If there is a problem with wiring in your home, a fire can start any time. This tragic fire shows that in homes without a fire sprinkler system, residents are not adequately protected from fire-even with a firefighter in the home. A fire sprinkler system could have prevented this fire and many others across the country from claiming lives.

Fire Sprinklers Save Sleeping Residents
From Arson Fire

Late one August night, witnesses saw a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt running from a house in Ipswich. They didn't realize at the time that he had just poured several litres of petrol on the floor in the boiler room and set fire to it. Eight people were sleeping upstairs.

Many arson stories like this one end in tragedy. Arson usually happens late at night when occupants are sleeping. Fire alarms may activate, but it can still take a few minutes for sleeping residents to wake up, realize what's going on, and get out of the house.

However, this particular story has a happier ending. The fire sprinklers activated when the fire was set-just moments after the arsonist left the scene. When firefighters arrived, they found that the fire had been controlled. They were able to easily extinguish what was left of it. All of the residents were evacuated safely from the house.

Home is supposed to be a safe haven. But most fire fatalities happen at home. In England, there are about 40,000 yearly house fires on average-with an average of 285 fatalities and over 9,000 injuries. Most of these people installed smoke alarms and had fire extinguishers on hand. But these precautions have proven ineffective over and over in home fire tragedies. Fire sprinklers are the safest and most effective means of protecting families from home fires.

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