Sprinkler System – Introduction

Industrial Fire sprinklers

Introduction

Note: Completed fire risk assessments should be able to establish if you need a sprinkler system.

Fire Sprinklers were invented in the United Kingdom by Major Harrison in 1864. But like so many good things invented in the UK it was left to be developed abroad by Henry Parmelee in the USA, who wanted to protect his piano factory.

Automatic sprinkler systems are used more than any other fixed fire protection system and over 40 million sprinklers are fitted world-wide each year. Sprinkler systems have been proven in use for well over 100 years. Possibly the oldest in Britain was fitted in 1812 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and updated form is still in use today.

How Sprinklers Work

A fire sprinkler system are a network of fixed water pipes supplied by two water sources with sprinkler heads fitted at recommended distances apart. Water can be supplied from a tank via pumps or from the town mains, providing the flow is sufficient and fills the pipes.

Detector heads are nozzles that direct a jet of water on to a deflector plate which defuses over a large area. The water is held back by a glass bulb or soldered strut which holds a plug in place. When heat is applied from a fire below, the glass bulb will burst, due to expansion of the liquid in the bulb, or the solder will melt, which then releases the plug and water flows through the sprinkler head.

The hot gases from a fire will raise the temperature at ceiling level and when the area adjacent to the head reaches a specific temperature that sprinkler head will actuate and spray water on to a fire. Only the sprinklers over the fire will open and the others will remain closed. This limits any damage to areas where there is no fire and reduces the amount of water needed.

Sprinkler heads can be placed in enclosed roof spaces and into floor ducts to protect areas where a fire can start without being noticed. In a large warehouse sprinklers may be placed in the storage racks as well as the roof.

At the point where the water enters the sprinkler system there is a valve. This can be used to shut off the system for maintenance. For safety reasons it is kept locked open and only authorised persons should be able to close it.

A pelton wheel rotates when water starts flowing in the system which in turn operates a warning bell. This way the sprinkler system both controls the fire and gives an alarm using water, not electricity.

Main water shut off valve which allows the system to be closed down when the fire has been extinguished.

Fire sprinklers have been continuously developed throughout their history and the modern residential fire sprinkler is the latest piece of sprinkler equipment. More details of this can be found under Residential Sprinklers on this web site.

The case for Fire Sprinklers

Losses from fires in buildings protected with sprinklers are estimated to be 1/10 of those in unprotected buildings. In buildings fully protected by sprinklers:

99% of fires were controlled by sprinklers alone
60% of fires were controlled by the spray from no more than 4 sprinklers
Source: European statistics over 10 year period

Sprinklers are the most efficient and effective fire safety device, worldwide, they have over a 99% success rate. The record of fire sprinklers is unsurpassed in the fire safety field. For instance in New Zealand, where all fires have had to be reported for over 100 years, records show that sprinklers have been effective in 99.7% of cases.

The advantages of sprinklers are recognised by the insurance industry, who insists on the installation of sprinkler systems in areas of high risk. There has been a long association between insurers and the sprinkler industry, which resulted in fire sprinklers being developed primarily to protect property. It was for this reason that their life saving properties were largely ignored until comparatively recently.

When conducting a fire risk assessment you could consider the provision of a sprinkler system to achieved the desired fire safety standard and make the property much safer. Insurance companies are beginning to look much more closely at industrial fire risks, and insurance premiums are rising, in some cases, clients could find it impossible to obtain insurance cover. Fire sprinklers, along with good fire safety management can help.

More info: risk assessing

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