Since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, much has been reported in the media about the devastation and destruction a fire can cause in high-rise buildings. While the focus following Grenfell has been specifically on the building’s cladding, there have also been renewed efforts from those in the fire safety industry to illustrate the effectiveness of fire sprinklers in preventing the spread of fire in high-rise developments.
The National Fire Sprinkler Network (NFSN) are declining to speculate on how effective sprinklers would have been during the Grenfell Tower fire in advance of the official investigation. They are, however, keen to continue to lobby for sprinklers in the built environment and to provide continuing evidence for their effectiveness.
The NFSN have over the past year coordinated the collection of data from all UK Fire and Rescue Services stretching over a five year period. The key findings included:
- Across all premise types sprinklers are 99 per cent effective
- Across all premise types operational reliability of sprinklers is 94 per cent
- The average fire damage in dwellings not fitted with fire sprinklers is 18-21 sq. m
- In dwellings where sprinklers are present, the average fire damage is under 4 sq. m
- The average fire damage in other building types with sprinklers is 30 sq. m, which is half that of buildings without
So with such compelling evidence available, one has to question why sprinkler systems aren’t being more widely installed into all premise types.
US Fire Chief, Peter O’Leary, of Wisconsin argues that fire sprinklers give fire fighters the best chance of survival when fighting a fire, and states “I have NEVER responded to a fire in a sprinklered multi-family dwelling where someone died. I have NEVER responded to a fire in a sprinklered multi-family dwelling where I heard a resident tell me that they lost everything and they don’t know where they are going to stay or how they will put clothes on their child’s back.”
O’Leary goes as far as saying “Home builders don’t like fire sprinklers because they know fires won’t consume buildings with the same level of destruction as in a non-sprinklered building and that’s where they really make their money! They rebuild/repair the damaged structure for a PROFIT! It’s a vicious cycle that is greed driven and not driven by life safety.”
In the UK, out of the ashes of Grenfell, there has to be renewed hope that the issue of fire sprinklers will finally be taken seriously. The independent review of building regulations and fire safety currently underway, and being led by Dame Judith Hackett, is looking closely at current building regulations and fire safety with a particular focus on high-rise residential buildings. There is hope that all such buildings will be retrofitted with fire sprinklers.
We will continue to support the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) and the National Fire Sprinkler Network (NFSN) to promote the efficacy of fire sprinklers in order to ensure nothing like the horrendous Grenfell Tower disaster can ever happen again.