Sprinkler Systems

A sprinkler head

It is our policy to recommend the fitting of automatic sprinkler systems where appropriate. 

Sprinkler systems have been in use for over 100 years, below we have answered some frequently asked questions and correct common myths.

Are automatic sprinklers a recent invention?

No. The oldest recorded use of automatic sprinklers was in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1812.  The updated version is still in use today.

Are they likely to go off by mistake?

No.  The likelihood of a sprinkler turning on accidentally is 1 in 500,000 (per year of service) about the same as being struck by lightning in a given year.

Do all the heads operate at once?

No.  Each sprinkler head is a self-contained heat detector and is designed to operate when the set temperature is reached.  Normally sprinklers are set to operate at 68c, and only the head that is near a fire will operate.  This is why they will not false alarm, unlike smoke detectors that may operate if you burn toast.

Do sprinklers create more water damage than the fire service?

No.  Depending on the type of system and the type of premises it is designed to protect, each sprinkler head discharges between 50 -100 litres of water per minute.  Typically the discharge begins about 10 -30 seconds after the fire produces enough heat to operate the sprinkler.  This is in contrast to the 1,000 - 2,000 litres per minute of water that is likely to be used by the fire service, due to the time taken to respond to the incident.  Even if you have automatic fire detection, the time taken for the fire service to respond will be greater than the time taken for the sprinker to work.

If a sprinkler false alarms, won’t it create a lot of damage?

Sprinkler systems cannot false alarm as they only operate if the air surrounding the head reaches a set temperature.  They do not respond to smoke, steam, dust or sprays from aerosols. 

How does a sprinkler work?

A sprinkler head is a temperature-controlled valve that releases a spray of water when the heat sensitive element reaches a set temperature.  Most sprinklers installed in the UK are of the ‘glass bulb type’.  This bulb is filled with a coloured liquid and a small bubble of vapour.

As the bulb heats to its operating temperature the vapour expands, until the glass bulb is broken allowing water to escape from a pipe.

The sprinkler head is designed to operate at 30 degrees centigrade above the highest anticipated ambient temperature.  Under normal conditions, in temperate climates, a rating of 68 degrees centigrade or 74 degrees centigrade will be suitable.  However, sprinkler heads with a operating range from 57 degrees centigrade to 230 degrees centigrade are available as needed.    

Is there a risk of vandalism to the system?

Regardless of the type of fire protection system used there is always the chance of vandalism.  However, this is extremely rare and the vandal would get very wet and be easy to identify.  All sprinkler systems should be fitted with water flow alarms that alert when a head operates.  This alarm can be connected to an alarm receiving centre that will alert the fire service. 

Deliberate damage to any part of a sprinkler system is a criminal offence.

Is there a risk of Legionnaire’s disease from sprinklers?

Research carried out by the Fire Protection Association and the Loss Prevention Council has shown that there is no realistic chance of a member of the public contacting Legionella pestis from a sprinkler system when it operates. 

There may be a small risk to engineering and maintenance staff; this can be entirely eliminated by proper maintenance of the system.  There has been no recorded case of Legionnaire’s Disease being contracted from any fire protection system anywhere in the world.

Are sprinklers expensive to maintain?

Unlike other fire protection systems that rely on electronics sprinkler systems need only very basic maintenance.  Usually only two maintenance visits per year are needed to keep the system in good working order.  Weekly and monthly checks of pumps, pressure gauges and valve settings can be carried by trained staff. 

More information about the use of sprinklers can be found at the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, www.bafsa.org.uk 

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Latest Sprinkler News

A sprinkling of high-rise safety measures for Tyne and Wear

Sprinklers for High Rise

A high-rise block in Gateshead is set to have ground-breaking fire safety work carried out to keep its residents secure in their homes thanks to partnership working between Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and The Gateshead Housing Company.

This project has been launched following on from a visit where fire safety staff from the Service took a number of representatives from the five Tyne and Wear Local Authority housing providers to the Callow Mount Project in Sheffield which has just completed a full retrofit with domestic sprinklers. The aim of the visit was to encourage the local authority housing providers to consider the practicability and cost effectiveness of using sprinklers to safely protect residents from fire in high rise tower blocks in Tyne and Wear in the future.

Regent Court in Gateshead is a ten-storey block with 160 residents and will have an innovative sprinkler system fitted to all flats, as well as in communal areas to help prevent future tragic events similar to the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell where six people sadly lost their lives.

During the visit, representatives from The Gateshead Housing Company could clearly appreciate the life saving benefits of the sprinkler system and acted swiftly on their return. They began to work closely with the Service to make arrangements to install the domestic sprinklers at Regent Court during summer 2012 and arranged a number of information sessions for residents so they could fully understand the installation process and what it would mean to them. The Gateshead Housing Company has also committed to upgrading fire safety measures across their stock of 29 high-rise blocks within Tyne and Wear.

Area Manager for Community Safety, John Baines, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said: “This is an exciting and ground breaking project for the North East which will improve the safety of residents in their homes. Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service is delighted to be working in partnership with Gateshead Housing Company and we look forward to working closely over the coming months to deliver this project, whilst exploring opportunities to undertake similar projects with other housing providers in Tyne and Wear. Our aim is, as ever, to work in partnership to ensure safe environments for our communities, whether in their home or work environments, or when enjoying social and leisure activities. “

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service calls for automatic sprinkler systems to be installed in all new homes and for housing providers to install them in their current properties.

An example of the latter is at Regent Court in Gateshead, whereby a ten-storey block with 160 flats has had an innovative sprinkler system retro-fitted to all flats and communal areas this summer. This project was launched after fire safety staff from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and The Gateshead Housing Company accompanied a number of representatives from the five Tyne and Wear local authority housing providers to the Callow Mount Project in Sheffield, where a sprinkler system had been retrospectively installed.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer, John Baines, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service said: "TWFRS are raising awareness of the importance of fire safety and the lifesaving benefits of sprinkler systems. In the same way that seat belts and airbags have become a standard feature in cars, we are supporting the national campaign to make sprinklers a standard safety feature in the home.

“Sprinklers are incredibly affordable, but more importantly if universally installed, they will almost eliminate fire deaths in the home.

“Over the next 25 years, based on an extrapolation of 2010/11 national statistics, another 8000 people will lose their lives in fires and 185,000 will be seriously injured. These lives could be saved with the introduction of sprinklers. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Gateshead Housing Company to deliver the Regent Court project and we would encourage other providers in the region to work with us on similar schemes. Our aim is, as ever, to work in partnership to ensure safe environments for our communities.”

Neil Bouch, Director of Customers and Communities at The Gateshead Housing Company said: “The company sees the work as vitally important. The safety and security of our tenants and leaseholders is our top priority and we are delighted to be working with Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service on such an innovative scheme. The fitting of a sprinkler system to an existing building has never been done before in this region and we are delighted to be leading the way in ensuring our high-rise residents stay even safer in their homes.”

Steve Seaber, British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) said “It is pleasing to see such a positive approach from the fire service and the fact that more housing providers are now coming on board and working in partnership on projects is a great achievement.”

The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) is urging the Government to follow the Welsh Assembly by introducing legislation which will see all new-build domestic properties fitted with sprinklers.