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The Importance of Fire Sprinklers in Industrial Settings

Posted on: March 24, 2014

The March edition of the NFPA journal recently published a very interesting article about the impact of fire sprinklers on industrial facilities. We’ve known for years how important a working fire sprinkler system is for keeping your building safe in the event of a fire, but now the conclusion of a 14-year study performed by Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Property Risk Engineering Group underscores that importance.

The study analyzed 946 serious fires between 2000 and 2013 across 11 different occupancy types, with a threshold of $100,000 in damage and up. Of the fires studied, 322 were industrial fires: 269 in manufacturing centers and 53 in warehouses. The industrial fires made up just over a third of the fires included in the study, but were responsible for nearly half of the total estimated $1.2 billion in damages.

The results of the study support the theory that fires tend to be more damaging the “heavier” the building occupancy. For example, while residential fires accounted for 8 percent of the number of serious fires in the study, they made up just 4 percent of the total estimated damage of those fires. Even within the manufacturing subset, heavier occupancies such as a foundry compared to a watch manufacturer tended to produce the more damaging and costly fires.

Overall, the study showed fires in non-sprinklered facilities averaged an estimated $1.9 million in damage compared to $638,000 in sprinklered facilities, or a ratio of about 3:1.

Further Studies on the Benefits of Fire Sprinklers

In 2013, the NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Data Division published their own report, titled U.S. Experience with Sprinklers. This report also included information on manufacturing and warehouse facilities and supports the findings of the Liberty Mutual study. In addition, the NFPA study found that:

  • Between 2007 – 2011, 48 percent of manufacturing facilities that reported structure fires had some type of fire sprinkler installed: 85 percent wet pipe, 12 percent dry pipe, and three percent other.
  • Wet pipe fire sprinklers operated in 91 percent of the fires and operated effectively in 86 percent of the fires. Where the fire sprinklers failed, the most common reasons were premature system shutoff (62 percent of cases) and manual intervention (20 percent). When the sprinklers themselves didn’t work properly, reasons were water not reaching the fire (36 percent of cases) and not enough water being released (31 percent).
  • 67 percent of reported fires where sprinklers operated were put down by one to two sprinklers.
  • 88 percent fewer deaths were reported in manufacturing facilities where wet pipe sprinklers were present compared to unsprinklered facilities.
  • Direct property damage per reported fire in a manufacturing facility was 38 percent lower when wet pipe sprinklers were present compared to when they were not.
  • 32 percent of structure fires that occurred in warehouses not including cold storage reported that some type of sprinkler was present: 79 percent wet pipe, 20 percent dry pipe, and 1 percent other.
  • Wet pipe sprinklers operated in 86 percent of fires and operated effectively in 84 percent of fires. Where fire sprinklers activated, 73 percent of fires required only one or two sprinklers.
  • In warehouses (excluding cold storage facilities), reported deaths were 61 percent lower when wet pipe sprinklers were present, when compared to fires with no sprinklers.
  • In both manufacturing centers and warehouses, reliability and effectiveness estimates are based only on fires and installations where the fire should have activated and been controlled by an operational sprinkler system. This excludes buildings that were under construction, fires that were not controlled because the sprinklers weren’t in the right place, fires that were too small to activate equipment, and fires that were confined to cooking vessel, chimney or flue, fuel burner or boiler, commercial compactor, incinerator, or trash.

You can click here to read the full article from the NFPA»

Confires provides fire sprinkler design and installation services as well as fire sprinkler inspections and maintenance for all types of commercial buildings, including all industrial facilities. Call us today to schedule a consultation.

If you like this, then you may be interested in: The Dangers of Fire Sprinkler Impairment

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