Sprinklered Apartment Building Burns

A report of an apartment fire in a three story 15 unit sprinklered building in Everett, Washington. The fire started on a balcony and went unchecked until the interior sprinklers activated. One person was injured and about 10 residents were displaced. [heraldnet.com]

This fire started outside on a deck, where there are no sprinklers,” Hynes said. “The sprinklers inside didn’t activate until the fire burned through the wall and ceiling and into the interior of the apartment.”

There is an exception for placing sprinklers on exterior porches and balconies in NFPA 13R however, I’m pretty sure we’ve been forced to protect them before because of a requirement in IBC. I’ll do some asking around, and check the code.

Update: Balcony protection is required in IBC. I had a conversation with a PM with some experience in residential and verified in the book (section 903.3.1.2.1).

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2 thoughts on “Sprinklered Apartment Building Burns

  1. I don’t think the IBC requires sprinklers on balcony’s serving individual dwelling units for 13R systems. If memory serves me right I think the IBC only requires sprinklers if they are combustible construction, common and used as means of egress.

    13R offers a lot of “trade offs” and of course the sprinklers installed per 13R are not as “protective” as a full 13 system. In 13R systems we don’t have to sprinkler bathrooms less then 55 sq. ft., small closets, combustible spaces between floors or (this is the big one) attics which saves a huge amount of dollars. A sprinkler system in a typical 30 unit 2 story apartment building might go for $30,000 if installed as a 13R system but I can easily see the same sprinkler going for $100,000 or more if we had to sprinkle in accordance with 13. Matter of fact I can see the system covering the attic costing more then the entire sprinkler covering the rest of the building.

    The idea behind a 13R system is not to save the building but to save lives and as far as I know there hasn’t been a multiple fire death in building protected with a 13R system yet so it does work.

    It is a trade off for dollars and these trade offs exist in every buidling code.

  2. I referenced the section number where IBC makes the requirement for exterior balcony protection. The actual code reads;

    903.3.1.2 NFPA 13R Sprinkler Systems Where allowed in buildings of Group R, up to and including four stories in height, automatic sprinkler systems shall be installed throughout in accordance with NFPA 13R. [IBC 2003]

    However, that is followed up in IBC by;

    903.3.1.2.1 Balconies Sprinkler protection shall be provided for exterior balconies and ground floor patios of dwelling units where the building is of Type V construction (built of any material allowed by the code) . . . [IBC 2003]

    It then goes on to give the requirements for spacing of deflectors under decking and structural members.

    I can see how this is confusing. We were all confused by it. The term “ground floor” has been thrown in there and this could be interpreted to mean protection is only required on the ground floor. Though balconies are, by definition, elevated and therefore not on the ground floor.

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