Live Burn Demo Reinforces The Critical Need For Sprinkler Systems

This topic was not originally in the plan for this week’s blog, but a “live burn demo” yesterday at our Xylem plant in Morton Grove, Illinois reminded all of us, including the dozens of fire fighters in attendance, how devastating fires can be.

We’ve probably all heard the argument from some contractors and building owners that retrofitting existing commercial and residential properties with fire sprinkler systems is exorbitantly expensive and very labor-intensive. In addition, the home building industry fought vigorously to block regulations that would require fire sprinklers as a standard feature in new construction. However, the organizations that write our nation’s building codes eventually stopped listening to these arguments and sided with the betterment of public welfare.

Although some U.S. codes have required new homes and commercial properties to be equipped with fire sprinkler systems, these model code requirements are not law until states and local jurisdictions adopt them. However, many jurisdictions have chosen to delay enacting the legislation for as long as they can.

While we understand the reluctance of some building owners to invest thousands of dollars to install sprinkler systems, when one witnesses first-hand how critical these systems can be in saving lives and reducing property damage you gain a whole new perspective.

The event I mentioned at the beginning of this blog was a yearly City of Chicago Fire Inspection Certification Course, which took place in the Little Red Schoolhouse. The event attracted more than 50 Chicago area fire fighters, inspectors and fire prevention experts from Xylem’s A-C Fire Pump, Apex Pumping Equipment and Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. This event educates inspectors on equipment used in the fire sprinkler system and prepares them for policing the new ordinance requiring all Chicago building owners with structures over a certain size to have sprinklers installed by 2015.

Special to this year’s certification class was a “Live Burn” demonstration showing the value a residential fire suppression system can have to help fight fires and reduce fatalities. Two side-by-side units were set on fire – one with a sprinkler unit and one without. As you can see in the video below, the one without a fire sprinkler reached 1350 degrees in less than 90 seconds.

The fire could spread rapidly in a house or high-rise building, threatening lives and causing tremendous damage. Firefighters would require thousands of gallons of water to extinguish a large blaze and cause potentially millions of dollars of damage.

In contrast, a single sprinkler using 40 gallons of water can extinguish and contain similar fires in 30 to 40 seconds, stated Tom Lia with Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB).

In a flashover, a fire spreads quickly due to intense heat.  Anything one can do to drop the temperature and limit the spread of the fire reduces the chance of a flashover.

“Sprinklers give occupants more time to evacuate,” Lia added. “And usually the sprinklers are part of an integrated system that ties the building’s alarm system to the fire department.”

Hopefully, more builders, contractors, and owners will see the contributions that fire sprinkler systems add to a property. Safety, security and energy efficiency are powerful incentives…not to mention saving lives.

RECENT U.S. FIRE STATS:Fire Sprinkler System Demo

  • 362,100 residential building fires
  • 2,555 civilian fire deaths
  • 13,275 civilian fire injuries
  • $6.6 billion in property damage
  • 25% of firefighter on-duty deaths are associated with residential fires
  • Sprinkler systems offer advantages to the homebuilder or owner
    • A low-cost reliable safety option that would attract many buyers
    • Trade-offs between sprinklers and code requirements that can result in lower construction costs, more units per area of land, etc. (5 to 15 percent)
    • For homeowners, the advantages include assurance of a safer environment for their families, protection of their investment and irreplaceable family possessions, and lower insurance rates 5 to 15 percent