Today's technology has allowed sprinkler systems to become more and more hidden in the cosmetic treatments of buildings to the point that it sometimes takes an experienced eye to identify if a school or university building has a sprinkler system. As a result, sprinklers may be neglected in overall maintenance.
Automatic sprinklers were invented in the late 19th century. Their use originally was confined to industrial applications, and has spread to include commercial and public buildings.
Sprinklers have an impressive history of property protection. They have saved many buildings from devastation and owners from huge financial losses. Statistically, two or less sprinklers stop about 61 percent of all sprinkler-controlled fires. While sprinklers do not always extinguish a fire, they can control it until firefighters arrive.
Some facts regarding sprinklers:
- Properly installed sprinklers are very reliable
The odds of a sprinkler opening because of a manufacturing defect are about one in 16 million.
- When sprinklers activate, they do not all go off at the same time
Only the sprinklers exposed to the heat of a fire will open. This number usually is less than four.
- The water damage from a sprinkler release is not the major cost of the fire
The size of the fire and the amount of related water damage from fire department hose lines will be much larger than the damage from the fire and water damage from a sprinkler head. The average sprinkler head discharges approximately 25 to 35 gallons per minute. A fire department hose stream discharges from 100 to 250 gallons per minute.
- A sprinkler head will activate to control a fire within minutes of its start
Fires in unsprinklered facilities may develop over a number of hours and involve damage to much of a facility, and will require much higher water flows to bring the fire under control.
To enhance the effectiveness of sprinklers as a fire-protection device, most educational facilities also are equipped with fire-detection systems that sense the presence of fires in their incipient stages and to alert occupants to evacuate. Many of these systems also are connected directly to local fire-protection services and will initiate an automatic response.