Fire Sprinkler Systems
Fires can be devastating and fatal, but they do not have to be. Fire sprinkler systems were effective at controlling the fire in 97% of home fires between 2015-2019.1 Installing a fire sprinkler system is a practical way to keep people and firefighters safe from the risks of fires.
A fire sprinkler system is a type of automatic extinguishing system (AES) that prevents fire growth and spread by releasing water through a series of sprinkler heads connected to a distribution piping system. Water is released through the sprinkler heads once the surrounding air reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This is an active protection method that can contribute to the safety of firefighters and those they work to protect.
Although these systems provide protection, they are not present in every structure. Fire departments responded to an average of 51,000 structure fires per year from 2015-2019.1 Only 10% of those structures had fire sprinkler systems.1 Additionally, most structure fires and fire deaths occurred in homes, but only 7% of all home fires had sprinklers.1
Ensure buildings have functioning fire sprinkler systems
Civilian fire death and injury rates are lower when fire sprinkler systems are present compared to reported fires in structures with no AES.1 The rate of firefighter injuries was also lower when sprinklers were present.1 Commercial structures (like warehouses or office buildings) are required to have fire sprinkler systems. However, some fire sprinkler systems failed to operate, primarily due to the system being shut off.1 The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program notes that functioning fire sprinkler systems can decrease the effect of a fire by reducing fire spread and in some instances, extinguishing a fire.
The lack of a fire sprinkler system has contributed to firefighters’ deaths. Firefighters are better protected when there is a fire sprinkler system in place to control the fire spread. Controlling fire spread allows firefighters to better perform their jobs safely because the fire is less aggressive. Property owners can be proactive by having a fire sprinkler system installed. If there is a fire, being prepared with a fire sprinkler system can help create a less severe outcome.
Require, inspect, and track
Being proactive in fire prevention is not limited to having a fire sprinkler system. The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program recommends that municipalities, building fire code officials, and authorities having jurisdiction should consider the following actions:
- Require automatic sprinkler systems in:
- Commercial and industrial structures, and
- High occupancy residential structures
- Perform regular fire inspections to identify code violations
- Develop and implement tracking systems to confirm code violations are fully corrected
These recommendations could apply to commercial and industrial structures like warehouses, strip malls, and factories as well as residential structures like apartments and single-family dwellings that are converted to multifamily dwellings. Commercial or industrial structures may have high risk high hazard inventory such as furniture, lumber, and other flammable products. The added risk highlights the importance of acting on these recommendations.
- NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report: Career Fire Fighter Dies and Another is Seriously Burned Fighting Arson Fire at a Commercial Strip Mall – Texas
- NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report: Career Lieutenant Dies and Four Firefighters Injured at a 3-Story Multi-Family Residential Occupancy – Massachusetts
Ahrens M  US Experience with Sprinklers. National Fire Protection Association. U.S. Experience with Sprinklers (nfpa.org).