A Proactive Approach

City officials in Grapevine, Texas are being recognized for their proactive approach in protecting historic buildings with fire sprinklers in their downtown district.  According to the article the city set up low interest loans to offset the cost of installation of the systems and connections to city mains.  [star-telegram.com; Fortworth, Texas]


News Clippings

Here are a couple of things I picked up off the “wire” tonight. I’m going to try this out every once-in-awhile to see how it goes. These posts will contain short descriptions of articles with a links to find them.

Restaurant owner Barry Walker got pro-active and installed a sprinkler system in his business. Now, a lawmaker is proposing tax breaks for others to do the same. “Lawmaker Wants Businesses to Install Sprinklers.” [WLTX-TV 19; Columbia, SC]

Jurisdiction considers rescinding sprinkler requirement in new homes. “Huntley May Snuff Out Fire Sprinklers.” [Daily Herald; McHenry County, Illinois]

Fire Displaces Multiple Businesses

Fire destroyed a 75 year old building in Alhambra, California. The 12,000 square foot structure contained 14 businesses and did not have sprinklers because it was built in 1932 well before any sprinkler requirements. [signonsandiego.com]

This is a perfect example of the importance of retrofits in older buildings with multiple businesses. Because of an accident in one, all 14 are now displaced looking for another home. This won’t kill the economy in a place like LA but it for sure affects those businesses and the people that make their livings working there. Unfortunately, the proverbial hands are tied. It’s up to landlords and owners to take the initiative to protect themselves.

Century Old Building Consumed By Fire

People wonder why we must have code development. “Why force people to install sprinkler systems?” “Shouldn’t it be the property owner/tenant/consumer’s choice?” “Sprinkler systems are too expensive to retrofit in older buildings.” The list of questions and excuses goes on and on.

If everything were left up to the average property owner/tenant/consumer they would take the path of least resistance in most cases. Sprinklers have proven themselves to protect life and property. They are sound investments.

This article explains that it took 78 firefighters 12 hours to battle a blaze in Cincinnati, Ohio that resulted in $500.000 worth of damage to 7 buildings. [WKRC TV; Cincinnati, Ohio]

For older areas and buildings around the nation fire sprinklers are a necessity. Not only to protect individaul tenants but for the protection of those businesses in close proximity to spaces where fire events start. A total loss to one business is one thing. The economic integrity of a community can be effected with the loss of multiple businesses.

One quote from the article I would like to address,

It can’t be said for sure whether sprinklers would have made a difference out here last night, but some local firefighters feel it may. A lot of water was used to get the flames out, so a little more would not have hurt.”

“A lot of water was used” is an understatement. Just one, 250 gallon-per-minute hose stream running for 12 hours would burn 180,000 gallons of water (enough water to fill about 30 backyard swimming pools). I don’t know how many hose streams were used or for how long but that gives you an idea of what it takes. I’m confident in speculating that had the building been equipped with fire sprinklers the fire would have been put out using only a fraction of 180,000 gallons.

Fire Department, not ABC, Pushed for Sprinklers

The title of this article is, “ABC Uses Fire Tragedy to Push More Government Regulation.” The tragedy the article speaks of is the furniture warehouse fire in South Carolina. I think the author needs to go back and do a little more research. First of all, it was the fire department who brought up the fact that fire sprinklers would have prevented the loss of life and the tragic outcome of Monday’s fire. Would ABC have reported the story had the fire chief not touted the benefit and need for sprinklers? My hunch is no.

The topic of the article digresses into residential requirements. Comparing commercial and residential real estate, in terms of fire sprinkler systems, is like comparing apples and oranges. What a shameful attempt to push the agenda of the NAHB.

The author also takes a shot at the NFSA,

In fact, the NSFA is an agenda-driven organization interested in promoting the sales of sprinkler systems. According to the organization ‘Mission Statement’ on its Web site, the purpose of the NFSA is ‘to create a market for the widespread acceptance of competently installed automatic fire sprinkler systems in both new and existing construction, from homes to high-rise.’”

Of course, I won’t deny that the NFSA is an agenda driven organization. They promote fire sprinkler systems because they believe in the fact that fire sprinklers have proven themselves to protect life and property. Though, when you go to the website (link in the side bar under “Sprinkler Organizations”) do them a favor and peruse it and find out for yourselves that the focus of their mission is slanted more heavily toward making sure that sprinkler systems are “competently installed.” The training and education the NFSA provides to those who design and install sprinkler systems is second to none.

Finally, I would like explain the, “create a market” portion of the mission statement. Sure the NFSA promotes sprinkler requirements. Just as does the AFSA and just as the NBFAA (National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association), I’m sure, promoted a requirement for smoke alarms back in the day. The thing to take away from this is that the NFSA, the AFSA, and the NBFAA cannot really “create” the market, they can promote the hell out of it. But “creation of the market” lies, for the most part, in the hands of the city code officials and fire department personell around the nation who are allowed to vote on such requirements in the codes.

But the NFSA doesn’t need me to defend them. Their reputation in the industry and the people who work and dedicate their lives to the mission of fire sprinkler systems is, quite frankly, enough.

Loyola High School Fire; Los Angeles

I’m betting this school was retrofit with sprinklers. There were no sprinklers in the room of origin but the fire was contained to one room due to sprinklers in the adjacent corridor. [lafd.blogspot.com]

Sometimes in retrofits you’ll see this. Sprinklers are added only to the corridors for evacuation purposes. The principle concern in these situations is life safety. Of course Sprinklering the entire building is the best option but sometimes it just isn’t possible, financially or otherwise. In this case, I believe the fire sprinklers did their job. We’ll count this as save.

Fires in Combustible Concealed Spaces

We had a fire similar to this one in my neck of the woods. [firefightingnews.com]

The fire here destroyed the whole building after smoldering for 10 hours in the ceiling joists. When someone finally did smell smoke and called the fire department it was too late. Just as the fire fighters entered the building it reached flash-over, severly injuring all seven(?) of them.

Historic buildings are tricky because all of them have combustible concealed spaces. Would sprinklers have stopped that fire from smoldering in those ceiling joists? Probably not. But there is a good chance the fire wouldn’t have reached flashover. Also keep in mind that NFPA 13 has specific requirements for the protection of buildings with unprotected combustible concealed spaces.

From NFPA 13 section;

(3)* For buildings having unsprinklered combustible concealed spaces, as described in and 8.14.6, the minimum area of sprinkler operation shall be 3000 ft2 (279 m2).
(4) The following unsprinklered combustible concealed spaces shall not require a minimum area of sprinkler operation of 3000 ft2 (279 m2):
(a) Combustible concealed spaces filled entirely with noncombustible insulation.
(b)* Light or ordinary hazard occupancies where noncombustible or limited combustible ceilings are directly attached to the bottom of solid wood joists so as to create enclosed joist spaces 160 ft3 (4.5 m3) or less in volume, including space below insulation that is laid directly on top or within the ceiling joists in an otherwise sprinklered attic.
(c)* Concealed spaces where the exposed surfaces have a flame spread rating of 25 or less and the materials have been demonstrated to not propagate fire in the form in which they are installed in the space.
(d) Concealed spaces over isolated small rooms not exceeding 55 ft2 (5.1 m2) in area.
(e) Vertical pipe chases under 10 ft2 (0.93 m2), provided that in multifloor buildings the chases are firestopped at each floor using materials equivalent to the floor construction. Such pipe chases shall contain no sources of ignition, piping shall be noncombustible, and pipe penetrations at each floor shall be properly sealed.

“Minimum area of sprinkler operation” means that in hydraulic calculations for the sprinkler system you must make sure your available water supply will support the demand of sprinklers working in unison over 3000 square feet. That is double the area of what is usually required in light and ordinary hazard occupancies.