Sprinklers Vital in Water Moratorium
Fire Protection Consultant and
Santa Barbara County, Calif., Fire Dept.
Water moratoriums are becoming a formidable stumbling block to fire protection in various areas of the country.
Moratoriums to limit ground water overdraft are certainly necessary. However, when moratoriums also prohibit the installation of automatic sprinkler systems and more fire hydrants, then a reduction in proper fire protection is spawned.
Fire departments must be involved from the beginning in the drafting of moratorium legislation and voter initiatives. The Fire chief must be actively involved with the water utility—private or public.
Facts for laymen
The following information is presented as a position paper for you to use in the event that water usage is, or may become, an issue in your community. It is written for presentation to non-fire persons, so it will seem very basic to you.
A reliable method of obtaining early fire detection and effective application of water to minimize fire losses is a properly designed, installed, and maintained automatic sprinkler system.
Only the heads directly over the Fire are open by means of a fusible link set to operate at a predetermined temperature. The average sprinkler head flows 22 gpm at 15 psi. This is a small amount of water compared to Fire department interior attack with multiple hose lines of 250 gpm.
When a sprinkler head opens, an alarm bell sounds to alert occupants. At the same time, notification can be transmitted directly to the fire department or through an alarm service, which notifies the Fire department. When the Fire is out, the system is restored to reset service. The only water that flows is that amount needed to control or extinguish the fire.
Water use minimized
The intent of the system is to control the fire or extinguish it at the low end of the gpm curve. The fire is still within the capability of the responding fire department while at the low end of the curve. A Fire allowed to burn without sprinkler protection may result in a water flow requirement too high on the gpm curve for fire department capabilities. This is especially true in areas which suffer from a serious lack of onduty Fire forces.
Failure of overhead piping or heads is rare. When this does occur, the alarm bell sounds, and the fire department responds and shuts off the system for repair.
Sprinkler systems bring substantial savings in Fire insurance premiums. Further, sprinkler systems help the community receive a better insurance rating. Sprinklers can confine a fire to the building of origin. This vastly reduces the potential water usage in fire Fighting. A conflagration, or group fire, in buildings can require all the water that a public system in the area can supply, for an extended period of time.
Reliability of sprinklers
Since their introduction, sprinkler systems have earned an impressive success record. National Fire Protection Association records since 1897 show a satisfactory performance rate of 95 percent for 117,770 fires in sprinklered structures.
NFPA records for a 39-year period (1925 to 1964) show that in sprinklered buildings, 92.4 percent of the fires were controlled by 20 heads or less (or 440 gpm); 78.1 percent by six heads or less (132 gpm); 64.3 percent, by three heads or less (66 gpm); and 55.2 percent by two heads or one (44 gpm).
More than half the fires were controlled by 44 gpm or less. This indicates a tremendous savings of water in sprinklered buildings as compared to nonsprinklered buildings. The 7.6 percent failure rate is caused principally by an inadequate water supply, pump failures, or closed sprinkler valves.
Example of economy
As an example of the water economy of sprinkler systems, consider a 14,500-square-foot, one-story building of ordinary construction. The required Fire flow for this building would be 2250 gpm, according to the Insurance Services Office pamphlet on required fire flow. Many fire departments are not capable of properly applying this amount of water in a timely fashion.
If this same building were sprinkered, the chances would be good that a Fire could be controlled by two sprinkler heads—or 44 gpm. This shows the water conservation capability of an automatic sprinkler system.
It is also important to note that meters of an approved type can be installed in water mains supplying sprinkler systems to allow water companies to monitor any water usage.
Water districts should allow automatic sprinkler systems to be connected to the water system and especially when water conservation is an issue.