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Fire Sprinklers Performance

"Unexpected Fires:
Fire Sprinklers Perform,
Even In The Strangest Cases"

What do a highway tunnel, a man's back pocket, a sleeping teenager, a cursed city street, and a commercial centre have in common? They all caught fire. Some were lucky enough to do it in proximity to fire sprinklers; some weren't-and one suffered serious damage, even with a fire sprinkler system installed.

What's clear is that fire sprinklers protect people and buildings from fires in the most diverse circumstances. From a tunnel fire that burns for three days to a man who catches fire and burns for seconds, sprinklers can be the deciding factor between life and death.

Fire Sprinklers Prevent
New Year's First Fire Fatality

A Columbia teenager drank a bit too much and lit a cigarette over New Years-something many of us did over the holidays. But then this 18-year-old did something that could happen to any of us, but didn't: he fell asleep with his lit cigarette in his hand.

This is how many tragic fires start. In this case, the teen's clothes caught fire. He suffered first and second degree burns on his shoulders and arms-but nothing more. The fire sprinklers put out the fire before serious damage was done.

The teen was alone in his flat at the time of the fire. The building where he lived housed hundreds of students and other tenants. A serious fire there could have been a tragic start to 2007.

Falling asleep with a cigarette in hand is more common than most people realize. Recent studies show that smoking is a leading cause of fire throughout the world, causing billions in global damages yearly. Anyone who lives in a flat or row home attached to other buildings should be concerned about cigarettes causing fires, even if they don't smoke themselves. Studies show that fire sprinklers are the most effective way to keep smokers-and those who live in proximity-safe from fire.

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Alders Call For Required Fire Sprinkler Systems Installed In Fire-Prone Town

You could say the town of Annapolis, Maryland, has worse luck than most. The town has had three serious fires in the past nine years, all in the same neighborhood: Main Street, the town's picturesque historic district. The first one, in 1997, destroyed three historic buildings in the heart of the area. The second one, in 2006, was a five-alarm fire that gutted several businesses. The third one, in early 2007, hit a retail store and spread to a nearby art gallery. The store had been in the process of installing sprinklers when the fire occurred.

The city already has fire sprinkler regulations in force. Under city ordinance, businesses must install a fire sprinkler system if they're changing the use of a building. According to the local fire department, around 30% of the area's commercial buildings have already installed a fire sprinkler system.

But city aldermen believe that the laws requiring a fire sprinkler system aren't protecting the town sufficiently. A few are calling for broader requirements for fire sprinkler systems in businesses, new and renovated homes.

This isn't the first time leaders have called for mandatory fire sprinkler laws. From Scotland to Scottsdale, Arizona, public figures have called for more fire sprinkler installation in buildings new and old. With all the attention fire sprinkler systems have gained as a result of their success, it's likely more areas will require them in the future.

How Fire Sprinklers Failed To Save
Local Businesses

Sometimes even fire sprinklers can't save a building from fire. A fire recently broke out in the Cowdray Centre in Colchester, which had been equipped with fire sprinklers. The fire spread through the roof of the commercial centre, which housed over sixty local businesses. It took more than 100 firefighters several hours to bring the blaze under control. Despite their heroic efforts, large sections of the centre were completely destroyed-and a number of business owners lost everything in the flames.

There was nothing unusual about this fire; it didn't burn hotter or quicker than usual. And there was nothing wrong with the sprinkler system; it wasn't broken or defective. So why did the system fail in this case?

It had been turned off in 1999.

When fire sprinklers fail, it's often due to user error. About 65% of the time, fire sprinklers fail to activate during a fire because they've been turned off. Building owners sometimes forget to re-activate the system after it's been shut off for regular maintenance. Some owners have fire sprinkler systems shut off to save money and time on regular maintenance. In an attempt to save money or time, many owners put their business in danger.

In this case, the cause for the fire sprinklers' deactivation was not known. But many business owners lost their livelihoods in the fire-a loss that could have been prevented with the simple flip of a switch.

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Fire Sprinklers Extinguish Pocket-Sized Fire

Late one January night, a man fell asleep in a hotel bed with his mobile phone in his pocket. While he was sleeping, the phone spontaneously ignited. The man's clothes burst into flame, engulfing him and his bed in seconds.

It's a good thing the hotel had fire sprinklers installed. The sprinkler head in the man's room activated quickly, dousing him and extinguishing the fire. He went to the hospital, where he was found to be in critical condition, with burns over half of his body. Still, it could have been a lot worse.

Of all the fire hazards we have to worry about in the home-unattended candles, electrical wires, gas leaks-most of us never think about a mobile phone igniting in a pocket or purse. But this isn't the first case of a mobile phone spontaneously catching fire. It's rare, but it happens-and in all cases, the batteries were found to be the most likely cause.

Lithium-ion batteries used by mobile phones pack a lot of power into a tiny space-making them prone to spontaneous combustion. Several mobile phone companies have recalled their batteries because of high risk of fire. Laptops use the same type of batteries, and these have also been known to burst into flame.

It just goes to show how crucial fire sprinklers are in protecting people from fire. A smoke detector or fire extinguisher would hardly do any good if your mobile phone set your clothes on fire-but fire sprinklers would save your life.

When A Tunnel Burns: Highways Agency Reluctant To Require
Fire Suppression Systems In Tunnels

The 1999 fire in the Mont Blanc tunnel beneath the Alps, connecting Italy and France, ended in tragedy for 39 people. The fire started in a Belgian refrigerator truck carrying a load of flour and margarine. The truck stopped midway through the tunnel, and the fire spread to vehicles behind it. Firefighters believe that the truck's flammable load, its large stores of diesel fuel, and its combustible shell of isothermal material around the refrigerated compartment contributed to the quick spread of the fire.

Most of those who died could not escape their cars. Those who did only ran a short distance before being overwhelmed by toxic fumes. The fire burned for two days and reached temperatures over 1,000 C.

Water mist fire suppression systems could have prevented this tragedy. The latest technology pumps large amounts of water through specially designed sprinkler heads that convert each droplet to steam. The resulting mist is fine, quick-moving, and has a large surface area-extremely effective in both cooling and smothering high-octane fires.

Unfortunately, the Highways Agency is reluctant to push for the requirement of these systems in highway tunnels because of the cost. But the cost in human lives is much greater-tunnel fires are usually fatal. The protection a fire suppression system could give is worth any price.

Fire sprinkler systems protect people and buildings from even the strangest and most unusual fires. From an ordinary-looking city street to a fully-sprinklered building, from a long highway tunnel to a sleeping man's back pocket, fires can start in the most unexpected places. If we're lucky, we'll be near a working fire sprinkler system when they do.

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