Grenfell Tower fire disaster, could fire sprinkler help

Grenfell Tower fire disaster, could fire sprinkler help

It was devastating watching the news coverage of the Grenfell fire disaster on 14th June 2017 and to hear that so many have lost their lives in this devastating fire our deepest sympathies go to the victims and families of this tragedy. 

Undoubtedly a public enquiry is required to help us find and understand the failings in the fire safety precautions for this building and to learn for the future.  I suspect before this enquiry can start the criminal investigation and a coroner’s hearing will have to be completed or at least before it can report and given the complexity, this could be considerable time away.  Time which we do not have, we need to ensure the safety of others who live in high-rise accommodation, action needs to be taken now.

Grenfell Tower was a high-rise building that stood 67.3 m (220ft) with 24 floors, 120 flats and if it had been constructed under the current building regulations would have had a fire sprinkler system installed to BS 9251, which if it been retrofitted (at an estimated cost of £200,000) into the tower would have controlled or extinguished the fire saving many lives.  We are still hearing many negative comments regarding fire sprinkler systems and their use in such buildings despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary.

I’ve recently heard of some fire protection consultants suggesting the fire sprinkler system would not have helped as the fire spread to more than one flat, this is missing the point of a fully sprinkler protected building.   When a fire starts in a flat the sprinkler or sprinklers closest to the fire will activate when they reach the set temperature discharging water onto the fire and wetting the surrounding walls to prevent the flashover.  By doing this the fire will be contained to the room in which the fire started.  The purpose of the sprinkler system is to stop the spread of fire and to contain one room. 

“The sprinkler system will cause more damage than the fire”.  It seems quite bizarre that someone thinks that the fire will cause less damage than the water from a fire sprinkler.  In residential properties, we use special residential fire sprinklers heads designed specifically for this type of risk.  The sprinkler heads operate very quickly in response to a fire and are localised to the room where the fire started.  They immediately start to control and extinguished the fire which limits the fire and smoke damage, it allows the occupants to evacuate swiftly and to raise the alarm.  A Chief Fire officer has recently said that having a sprinkler system is like having a firefighter in your property 24/7.

The alternative is when fire sprinklers are not fitted is that you must wait for the fire service to arrive by this time the fire may have grown out of control and will require a considerable amount of water to extinguish the fire much more times than that which would have been used by a sprinkler.  In addition, the fire damage will be more extensive and as we have recently seen sometimes even the fire service cannot control a fire.

We have also heard some say that “buildings cannot be retrofitted with fire sprinklers” this is utterly untrue.  Many high-rise buildings have been retrofitted successfully with fire sprinkler systems.  Some more enlightened local authorities have been installing sprinkler systems into their high-rise buildings for some years which has resulted in the fire sprinkler industry having a wealth of experience in how to install and manage this type of project.  What’s more many local authorities have chosen the fire sprinklers as it’s a more cost-effective solution than providing increased passive protection.  It’s estimated that a high-rise building can be retrofitted with fire sprinklers for somewhere between £1000 to £2000 per flat but it’s difficult to be more precise as each block of flats will have its own individual requirements and water supply.

It’s said that the “water supply will not be adequate for the fire sprinkler system”.  This is, of course, true in part an existing water supply may not be adequate but that does not mean the fire sprinkler system cannot be installed.  It may be necessary to install a booster pump set and water storage tank to provide a dedicated water supply but there are many other methods that can be employed to ensure water supply is adequate to meet the requirements of the fire sprinkler system.  After all the ‘water supply’ is the most important part of any fire sprinkler system so it must be right.

We are very fortunate in the United Kingdom to have foreseen that domestic and residential fire sprinkler systems can provide enhanced fire protection to properties such as blocks of flats, care homes and even your home.  The UK has developed a set of exacting standards which are continuously reviewed to ensure that they keep pace with the changing building methods.  To this end, Bsi publishes a code of practice BS 9251 : 2015  ‘fire sprinkler systems for domestic and residential properties which provides guidance for specifiers, building owners, designers and installers.

Its also imperative that you choose a contractor who has the skill and experience to install such a system. The British standard, BS 9251 says that a system should be designed, installed and maintained by a “competent person” and defines this as a “person, suitably trained and qualified by knowledge, understanding and practical experience, and provided with the necessary instructions, to enable the required task(s) to be carried out correctly”.  In practice, this is hard for an end-user to evaluate and we would strongly recommend that you choose a contractor which can offer a ‘Third part certificate of conformity by doing this you can be assured that the company has been evaluated to join the scheme and has continuing assessments.  You would not think twice about using someone in the Gas Safe scheme so what is different with a fire sprinkler system – it could save your life.

Canute has an enormous experience in the design and calculation of domestic and residential fire sprinkler systems design to BS 9251 and our FHC - hydraulic calculation software is used by the leading UK fire protection companies.  FHC has already been used to calculate many sprinkler systems in high rise residential accommodation and we can offer both advice and training on all aspects of Domestic and Residential sprinkler systems.

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