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Industrial Fire Sprinkler Systems

"Helping the Helpless: How
Fire Sprinklers
Save Those Who
Can't Save Themselves"

Fire alarms, extinguishers, and a solid escape plan can save lives when a fire breaks out. But some of us may need a little extra saving. Handicapped patients in rest homes are particularly vulnerable to fire; they often can't get out of a burning building on their own. It's the same for animals in zoos, barns, and pet shops: they're confined in cages or pens, and can be dangerous to evacuate safely. Schools are supposed to be safe places for our most precious possessions-our children-but they're at high risk for arson. And if you're in a boat at sea, where can you go in a fire?

Fire sprinklers are the only effective protection for those who can't get out of a burning building on their own. They stop fires before they have a chance to grow-protecting the most vulnerable from injury and death.

Why Rest Homes Without Fire Sprinklers Put Our Parents And Grandparents At Risk

Elderly and handicapped patients woke to the smell of smoke and the sound of fire doors slamming as a fire spread throughout a Connecticut nursing home late on a February night. Firefighters arrived to find a serious blaze-and hundreds of bedridden people screaming for help. They rushed to evacuate the building, managing to get 130 people out on stretchers, wheelchairs, or entire beds.

Despite their best efforts, however, ten people died at the scene. Twenty-four were hurt. Of those, six died later of their injuries.

The rest home housed 148 elderly and handicapped patients. Firefighters described it later as one of the worst fires they'd ever seen. The blaze spread quickly, the people inside were unable to rescue themselves, and the temperatures outside were frigid-adding to the suffering of the frail patients even after they were rescued.

This is just one of many cases of tragic rest home fires. Many people shopping for a home for their elderly or handicapped loved ones are looking for a safe, protected environment-but they don't look hard enough at fire safety. They should. Rest homes are among the worst places for a fire to break out. Many patients are handicapped. Most can't move quickly enough to save themselves in case of a fire, and are entirely dependent on the staff. It can be especially challenging to evacuate mentally handicapped patients, who can panic and resist. In any fire, every second counts-and it takes much more than seconds to get these patients out of a burning building safely.

The Connecticut rest home had no fire sprinklers installed-only fire extinguishers, which staff failed to use effectively. In the U.S. and the U.K., some areas require rest homes to have fire sprinklers installed-but older buildings can have "grandfathered" exemptions in some cases, as well as other exemptions related to layout and usage. The rest home in this case study met fire safety standards required by law-yet it failed to protect its residents when a fire started.

There's no question that fire sprinklers would have helped. When a similar fire started in the basement of a Bristol rest home, the heat from the basement activated the fire sprinklers on the first floor. They soaked the floors, containing the fire to the basement and buying firefighters time to evacuate the 60 people inside. Nobody was hurt.

The bottom line? No rest home is safe without fire sprinklers. When looking for a home for an elderly or handicapped loved one, don't settle for anything less than the best fire protection. Your loved one will thank you for it.

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Fire Sprinkler Systems Hard At Work,
Even When School's Out

Firefighters received a call early one July morning that a local middle school was on fire. This probably wasn't a big surprise-school fires are common occurrences, both during and outside of school sessions. This particular school was on holiday, leaving it open to arson. Rushing to the scene, however, the fire department found that the fire was contained in a single classroom-and the building's fire sprinkler systems had kept it in check. It took just minutes for firefighters to extinguish the blaze completely.

The cause of this fire was not conclusively determined to be arson-related. However, that's a likely scenario. In 1996, U.K. firefighters responded to over 2,000 school fires-70% of which were caused by arson. Schools are obvious targets for delinquent youth. In the U.K., Zurich Municipal Insurance claims that 40% of the time, the culprits are boys aged 10-17 years old. While many arson fires are started outside of normal school hours, an alarming trend indicates that more arsonists are starting fires while school is in session. Common places for in-session fires include bathrooms, coatrooms, and locker rooms-anywhere a child can be undisturbed for a few minutes.

School fires are tragic, not only for the children involved, but also for the staff and larger community. Children lose their sense of safety and security at school after losing a school building to fire-younger children can even be afraid to go back to school. Staff lose a school they may have invested decades in developing-a loss that can be devastating to any teacher or administrator. The community can be hit hard by the financial burden of rebuilding a school. In addition, loss of papers, test results, and important records can affect children's school careers long after the fire. It can take a community years or even decades to recover from a fire started by a single malicious act.

Many schools can't afford to have guards posted outside while the school's closed-and arsonists can find ways to get inside a locked and unattended school. In addition, no matter how attentive the staff, it's nearly impossible to watch every child, every minute.

That's why fire sprinkler systems are the ideal solution. They're nearly impossible to set off accidentally or maliciously without starting a real fire-so the risk of water damage from practical jokes or accidental firings are minimal. In addition, fire sprinkler systems control a fire the minute it starts, giving it no time to spread to other areas of the school. Their record of fire safety tells the story: a school with fire sprinkler systems installed has never been lost due to fire, from arson or any other cause.

Pet Shop Fire Prompts Lawmakers To Consider Mandatory Fire Sprinkler Systems
Where Animals Live

A three-alarm fire engulfed a Connecticut pet shop early in 2006. Although the building did not have sprinklers, most of the pets were saved before flames consumed the shop. The fire prompted lawmakers to propose legislating fire sprinkler systems in buildings and facilities that house animals.

It's about time. Animals are common fire fatalities. No matter how beloved, house pets are usually the last rescued in residential fires. Barns and zoos are also prone to fire. Barns often contain large amounts of hay, flammable fuels, and other fire-prone materials-including sheep, horses, cows, and other livestock. When a fire starts, these big animals are panicked and dangerous to rescue. As a result, they often stay confined during a fire, and usually burn to death in their stalls.

Zoo and aquarium fires are also more common than most people realize-the Ocean City Aquarium, the Philadelphia Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo, and many other famous zoos and aquariums have lost animals to fire. In facilities that are supposed to protect and care for these animals, many patrons consider failure to install fire sprinkler systems negligent.

Unfortunately, the bill to mandate fire sprinkler systems in animal housing facilities was not successful. However, it's possible the subject could come up again. Like handicapped patients in rest homes, animals are often helpless in the face of fire. Fire sprinkler systems protect those who can't protect themselves.

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Trouble On The Scandinavian Star

If a fire breaks out while you're on a ferry or cruise ship, where do you go?

For most people, there's no safe place. It's notoriously difficult to protect passengers and crew on seagoing vessels from fire. Even if there are lifeboats on board and a solid evacuation procedure in place, it usually takes a long time to evacuate a boat at sea. People on seagoing ships are truly at the mercy of a fire-there's no sure escape route, and no help on hand.

The Scandinavian Star was a passenger ship and ferry with a route between Oslo and Denmark in the 1990's. During one of its routine voyages, a fire broke out on one of the decks. 158 people were killed in the blaze.

The Scandinavian Star was built according to fire safety regulations of the time. Unfortunately, these regulations did not require a fire sprinkler system throughout the ship. There was a limited fire sprinkler system installed in certain areas of the ship, including the car park, but the fire sprinkler system did not cover the entire ship. Firefighters later found that the fire sprinkler system had not been properly maintained, and that the sprinkler heads were plugged with rust.

The fire was started deliberately in a hallway. Passengers died taking shelter in cabins and attempting to escape through the halls to safer areas of the ship. They had nowhere safe to go to escape the fire.

That's why effective fire prevention is so important on seagoing vessels. An investigative committee, charged with discovering the causes of the fire, strongly recommended that all seagoing vessels be fitted with a fire sprinkler system in the future.

What It Takes To Save A School

The town of Austin, Minnesota, has only one public middle school. And it's lucky it still has that. It didn't always-in 1986, a fire ripped through the school, causing millions in damage and displacing hundreds of students. The school was closed for three years for repairs.

In 2007, history seemed about to repeat itself. A fire started in a plastic trash bin, and could have caused significant damage. This time, however, the school was prepared. The heat from the fire tripped a single sprinkler head, which extinguished it almost immediately. The school suffered only minimal damage, and classes were soon back in session.

The 1986 fire was devastating for teachers, students, and community alike. When they rebuilt, they included a fire sprinkler system with the new design. If they hadn't, the same thing would have happened again less than ten years later-and the district would be facing another closure. Luckily, the town of Austin learned from the experience. With the fire sprinkler system installed, their school is now protected from future tragedies.

Children, the elderly, the handicapped, and our pets and animals are the first and most numerous victims of fire. In addition, it can be difficult to evacuate even the most able-bodied adults from some structures, like ocean-going ships. Fire sprinklers are the only effective protection for those who can't protect themselves in case of a fire. There has never been a fire fatality in a building with working fire sprinklers-including children and the handicapped. When it comes to fire sprinklers, their record of success speaks for itself.

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