The Automatic Sprinkler System: The Best Defense Against Fire Damage

In 1806 the automatic sprinkler system was invented by an Englishman named John Carey. He used a series of perforated pipes connected to an elevated water tank which held the pressurized water in place by the use of closed valves. The valves were held in place with combustible cords that were connected to a series of weights. If fire occurred, it would burn through the cords and release the weights. The weights would drop and open the closed valves, releasing the water and extinguishing the fire. Today’s automatic fire sprinkler systems are obviously a bit more complex, but the principle remains the same, and they are still the most effective tool for fire prevention that is available today.

Sprinkler systems are mandatory in many buildings, especially those involved in manufacturing or storage of combustible materials. The national standard for sprinkler instillation and requirements is specified by the National Fire Protection Association, or the NFPA. The NFPA created a standardized code in order to decrease the risk of fire and to decrease the risk of injury in the case of a fire. NFPA revises the standard often so that safety measures are consistent with new materials and technology, since advances in technology usually bring about new fire risks that need to be addressed.

The type of material that is being stored in a building will denote which type of sprinkler system needs to be installed. Combustible material storage requirements and standards are designated by the NFPA as well. Both indoor and outdoor storage of combustible materials is addressed under the NFPA standard for material storage requirements. Again, these standards are updated regularly to reflect the newest technology and innovations relevant to fire safety.

There are two basic functions of sprinkler systems, either to extinguish the fire or contain it. Sprinklers that are made to contain the fire are called control mode sprinklers. They are designed to control the heat release rate by wetting the area so the fire will not spread. When firefighters arrive, they put out the fire. The sprinklers help to prevent structure collapse. Sprinklers that extinguish fires are called suppression mode sprinklers. These sprinklers release a sudden and energetic flow of water that is designed to completely extinguish the fire prior to firefighter arrival.

Installation of sprinkler systems are required by many building codes yet there is little federal regulations regarding the use and instillation of fire sprinkler systems. The PL-101-391, the “Hotel and Motel Safety Act of 1990” does require that any hotel or meeting hall that receives federal funds must meet fire and safety requirements, making it beneficial for businesses to voluntarily comply.

Depending on what you are storing, it could be an important safety measure for you and your employees. It could also help on insurance premiums since sprinklers will reduce potential property losses and business interruption. Since these codes and requirements can be fairly complex and confusing, don’t hesitate to consult a professional to ensure that your building is kept up to code so as to keep you, your workers, and you business investment safe from costly fire damage.


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