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Fire Sprinklers Effectiveness and Efficiency

FloWatch actively promote the inclusion of Sprinklers in the Built Environment. It is widely known that Sprinkler systems saves lives.

But What are the facts?

In March 2019 the National Fire Sprinkler Network (NFSN) and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) published a report, "Incidence of Deaths and Injuries in Sprinklered Buildings," which was a supplementary report on the original analysis published in May 2017 titled "Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom." These reports used Fire Service data to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of Sprinklers in the United Kingdom.

From the second report published in March 2019, a study of primary fire between 2013 and 2018 recorded a total of 192,094 fires occurred in all buildings including those without Sprinklers. Of this 192,094, only 3,046 building fires were recorded where Sprinklers were present. This equates to fires being recorded where Sprinklers were present as 1.5% of all building fires. An extremely low number.

So Do Sprinklers Save lives?

Between 2013 and 2018 as stated above, there were 192,094 fires that occurred in all buildings. From these fires, there were 1,462 fatalities. This equates to a mortality rate of 0.7% approximately. From the 3,046 building fires where Sprinkler Protection was present, there was only 5 fatalities, equivalent to 0.15%. Of the 5 fatalities which occurred in sprinkler protected building fires, it was found that the circumstances of the fire fell outside the life-saving operating parameters of the system's design. Typically, the casualty was directly involved with the fire with either their bedding or clothing ignited - often by smoking materials.

From this data it is evident that Sprinkler systems reduce the chance of fatal injury from a building fire.

But what about non-fatal injuries?

The study found that on average, in all primary fires between 2013 and 2018, a non-fatal casualty occurred in every 5.27 dwelling fires. However, when sprinklers are fitted this reduces to one in every 10-11 fires, indicating that you are half as likely to be injured when sprinklers are present in a dwelling fire.

It is clear from the report that Sprinklers save lives and reduce the likelihood of non-fatal injuries in dwelling fires.

The Building Regulations Approved Document B Volume 1 Paragraph 7.4, Blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11m above ground level should be fitted with a sprinkler system throughout the building, takes effect on the 26th November 2020. This is excellent news that more properties will require the installation of the fixed Fire Sprinklers in England, and with Wales already enforcing Sprinklers in all new homes and extensions, it is likely that a higher proportion of all dwelling fires that occur will be in properties that have sprinkler protection which will reduce the mortality rate caused by dwelling fires.

So the big question - how often is a Sprinkler system installed and a fire occurs for which the Sprinkler system does not operate?

In the original report, the analysis was of data from the fire and rescue service between 2011 - 2016 where sprinklers were recorded as being present. It amounted to 2,294 incidents, of which 1,725 (75%) were in non-residential buildings and 414 (18%) in dwellings.

From the data there were 1,316 fires recorded where a sprinkler system was present but did not operate. Information on the reasons why the sprinkler system did not operate was recorded for 879 fires. In 370 of these cases the fire was in an area not covered by the system. 18 fires (2%) occurred where the sprinkler system was isolated and overall 57 (6.5%) cases out of 879 were identified where the system could have been expected to work but didn't.

From this data 6.5% of sprinkler systems were either isolated or were expected to work but did not. This is a significant number when you consider how effective Sprinkler Systems are at reducing fatalities and non-fatal injuries.

However, this data was only from 879 of the 1,316 fires where a sprinkler system was present but failed to operate. Therefore it is possible this figure could be higher as there were a further 437 cases for which the reason the sprinkler did not operate was not recorded.

Why are systems not operating when required?

The report mentioned above does not provide a breakdown of the reason for all 57 occurrences when sprinklers should have operated but did not. However according to the BAFSA BIF (BAFSA Information file) No. 19, Sprinkler Reliability, information provided by the NFPA provided the following reasons why Sprinklers do not operate when required

System shut off at time of fire 66%

Manual intervention (at time of fire) defeated system 16%

Lack of maintenance 10%

Inappropriate system for fire 6%

Damaged component 2%

Sprinklers are different to many other types of systems installed within the built environment in that they sit dormant majority of the time and without monitoring, if a fault occurs on critical parts of the system or the system is isolated the occupant, building manager or building owner is unaware that the sprinkler system will not operate when required. If the cold water in your house is isolated you are aware the next time you try to run a tap, flush a toilet, use the washing machine etc, whereas with Sprinkler Systems without monitoring there is no way of knowing the system has been isolated.

We can see from the data above that the majority of cases where sprinklers are required to operate but do not are down to some form of human interaction - ie the system was isolated or maintenance was not undertaken. this accounts for 76% of the reasons why sprinklers failed to operate when required.

Whilst 6.5% failure rate can equate to a good reliability rate, if you look at it another way, if you got up in the morning and started your car and 7 times out of 100 it didn't start would you find that acceptable? If you did try and start your car and it didn't start, the car would more than likely tell you the reason why, and again similar to Sprinklers it would probably be human intervention. For example, no fuel, battery in the car has run flat due to leaving lights on, foot might need to be on the brake etc etc. If you have a boiler in your house at home and it fails, what do you do - you go to the front of the boiler and see a fault code - you call an engineer you get it fixed.

This is why all Sprinkler systems should monitor the critical elements of the system and supervisory alarms should be raised in the event of a fault or possible impairment so proactive measures can be taken.

Why use FloWatch to Monitor your Sprinkler System?

FloWatch manufacture a purpose made Domestic and Residential Fire Sprinkler Monitoring system which when used in conjunction with Monitored Isolation valves, continuously supervises the critical elements of the Fire Sprinkler system which could impair the Sprinkler System working as designed.

The FloWatch monitoring system monitors the following:

- Monitored Isolation valves - the FloWatch 9251 Monitoring system will raise an alarm in the event that the isolation valve is not in the fully open position

- Tank Level Switch - the FloWatch 9251 Monitoring system can connect to a tank level switch which will raise an alarm in the event there is insufficient water supply for the sprinkler system

- Booster Set - the FloWatch 9251 Monitoring system will raise an alarm in the event of a fault with the booster set.

- Flow Switches - Flow Switches can also be connected to the FloWatch 9251 Monitoring system to give the occupant a notification in the event that the Sprinklers are active.

The FloWatch 9251 Monitoring system also has an inbuilt GSM Sim card and modem which has the facility to send out emails to a nominated email address in the event of a fault, isolation or activation of the system dependant upon what is being monitored as per the above. Ideal for situations where there is not a maintenance engineer or building manager on site, for example most Residential Apartment Blocks do not have a person on site responsible for maintenance of the communal systems. By installing a FloWatch Monitoring system with remote monitoring activated you can be notified anywhere in the world when the Critical Life Safety Sprinkler system may be impaired.


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