Sprinklers more reliable now: NFPA report

QUINCY, MASS. The National Fire Protection Association released an updated report in mid-September with new evidence that it said shows the value of automatic fire sprinkler systems. The report says sprinklers are more reliable than previously estimated in reducing U.S. fire deaths. "U.S. Experience with Sprinklers and Other Fire Extinguishing Equipment," however, also states that the centuryold technology

QUINCY, MASS. — The National Fire Protection Association released an updated report in mid-September with new evidence that it said shows the value of automatic fire sprinkler systems. The report says sprinklers are more reliable than previously estimated in reducing U.S. fire deaths.

"U.S. Experience with Sprinklers and Other Fire Extinguishing Equipment," however, also states that the centuryold technology remains underused, especially in the place where the risk of fire death is greatest, the U.S. home.

The report states that when sprinklers are installed, the chances of dying in a fire are reduced by 50% to 75%, compared to fires where sprinklers are not present. Sprinklers are now estimated to operate in 93% of fires large enough to activate them. And for the first time, it is possible to document that nearly all sprinkler failures involve errors of human judgment, including 65% that occurred because the systems had been shut off prior to the fire.

Sprinklers appear to be present in most health-care facilities, high-rise hotels and high-rise offices buildings, and, to a lesser extent, in department stores and manufacturing facilities.

But most fires still occur in properties without sprinklers, the report says, and the systems remain especially rare in homes. NFPA estimates sprinklers are present in less than 1% of the reported fires that occur in one-and two-family dwellings and in less than 8% of reported fires in apartments. Where sprinklers are present in homes, their impact on life safety is as large as it has been in other properties where sprinklers have been long established.

With most of the small number of home sprinkler installations still occurring as a result of ordinances and other mandates rather than owner preference, NFPA has taken a lead role in raising awareness of residential sprinkler availability among homeowners.

The home sprinkler installation tide may be beginning to turn, according to NFPA. A floor action by NFPA's membership in June 2005 established provisions requiring sprinklers in new oneand two-family dwellings in the 2006 editions of NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code and NFPA 1 Uniform Fire Code. The codes, issued by the NFPA Standards Council in August 2005, also require fire sprinklers in all nursing homes, among other properties.

NFPA's mission is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training and education. More information is available at www.nfpa.org