On the 8th of June 2019, a fire in Eunice Kelly’s flat in Greater Manchester was contained before it could spread to the other 57 homes in her block. The building is run by ForHousing group, which spent £ 5 million on sprinklers in its 17 tower blocks after Grenfell. Assets director Mark Lowe said: “This single situation has made the investment worthwhile.” This is another example of countless lives saved by the simple sprinkler system installation.
Another example of such success comes from the 6th of January 2019. A fire which started just after midnight on 6 January in the kitchen of a flat on the 11th floor of Tamar House was contained and fully extinguished by the retrospectively installed sprinkler system. Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service promotes the installation of sprinklers in high-rises and many other types of residential premises, as there is clear evidence that sprinklers can rapidly control the spread of fires.
The issue, however, is not just in residential buildings. Fires in Industrial and Commercial premises can have a severe impact on both the national and local economy. There are also significant risks of job losses from such fires, which subsequently cause social and economic impacts on the community and environmental damage. Furthermore, school fires are an increasing problem causing many millions of pounds of damage. Installing sprinklers into school premises will reduce the massive cost to society and ensure less disruption to students following fires.
One of the most significant barriers to mass sprinkler adoption today is the many myths the public believes. Some worry that the water damage caused by a sprinkler system can be as damaging as a fire. However, a residential sprinkler system is designed to use just enough water to control the fire. Typically, one sprinkler head discharges 38-40 litres of water a minute compared to a firefighter's hose at 1000 litres a minute. This minimises water damage, and a room protected by sprinklers can often be back in use within a couple of hours.
You can expect a fire sprinkler to discharge less than 5% of the fire service's water. Statistics show that widespread use of sprinklers could save up to 96% of the 5.6 billion litres of water used annually in the UK to fight large fires. This is equivalent to three months’ water supply for the entire population of a city the size of Leeds.
Their perceived costs are another huge barrier to businesses and housebuilders installing sprinklers. Contrary to popular opinion, they only cost around £1/sq. ft in new homes, which comes to approximately £1500 for a three-bedroom house; typically, how much is spent on the carpets.
Sprinklers can also save on building costs because, under the UK Building Regulations, larger compartment sizes, reduced boundaries, and extended distances to fire exist are permitted. Insurance companies may also offer significant discounts for buildings protected by sprinklers.
Retrofitting sprinkler systems can be fitted into existing buildings. One company installed sprinklers into a significant London Hotel whilst the hotel was over 95% occupied, proving that disruption can be minimal.
It is vital, then, that we continue to push for fire sprinklers to be installed in residential and commercial and governmental buildings. Additionally, this is a manageable goal that could be achieved and potentially save innumerable lives.