Fires in industrial and commercial premises can have a serious impact on both the national and local economy.  There is a risk of significant job losses with subsequent social and economic impact on the community as well as environmental damage.

A simple solution is to install a sprinkler system. For over a century, sprinkler installations have been successfully safeguarding commercial buildings. They are a combined fire detection and extinguishing system. They provide continuous protection throughout the day and night, irrespective of whether or not the premises are occupied.

And it's not just the commercial world where sprinklers can have an impact. Nationally, fires in schools are an increasing problem causing many millions of pounds worth of damage.  The installation of sprinklers into school premises will reduce the massive cost to society, ensure less disruption to students following fires and offer better protection to students should a fire break out.

The benefits of sprinklers

  • They save lives
  • They protect those people who are in the room where the fire starts
  • They deal with fires when they are small and more easily controllable
  • They limit the production of smoke and fumes
  • They drastically reduce the damage caused by a fire and therefore minimise the disruption and time taken to achieve business continuity
  • Generally, a sprinkler system for a new property would only amount to one to two per cent of the total build cost
  • They cost very little to maintain
  • They control/extinguish 99 per cent of fires
  • They control 60 per cent of fires using four sprinkler heads or less
  • The protection they offer can reduce the need for other fire safety measures
  • They bring about financial benefits, resulting from insurance premium reductions
  • Operation of a sprinkler system will rapidly control a fire, raise the alarm and reduce the rate of production of heat and smoke, allowing time for occupants to escape
  • Significant reduction in property loss.

The Facts

  • Environmental friendliness - sprinklers help to protect the environment by controlling a fire in its early stages, preventing airborne and water run-off pollution.
  • Sprinklers save water - statistics show that widespread use of sprinklers could save up to 96 per cent of the 5.6 billion litres of water used annually in the UK to fight large fires. This is equivalent to three months' supply of water for the entire population of a city the size of Leeds.
  • Building design flexibility - sprinklers can save on building costs because under Building Regulations larger compartment sizes may be constructed. Reduced boundary and extended distances to fire exists are also permitted.
  • Legal protection - owner/occupiers/employers can be held legally responsible for the consequences of a fire if adequate fire precautions have not been taken.  Sprinklers protect the lives of firefighters and are fully supported by fire services.
  • Reliability - sprinkler systems have been proven in use for well over 100 years, during which time they have a 99 per cent success rate worldwide.  Systems over 100 years old are still in full working order today.
  • Life safety record - in the UK there has never been a fire death in a building with a fully maintained sprinkler system.
  • Sprinklers save money - losses from fires in buildings with sprinklers are estimated to be only one tenth of those in unprotected buildings.
  • Limited water damage - firefighters often use 20 times more water from hoses to do the same job as a sprinkler.  In tackling the Windsor Castle fire, seven million litres of water was used.
  • Cost-effective to install - the cost of installing a sprinkler system is roughly equivalent to carpeting the same building.  All the UK royal palaces could have sprinklers installed for the cost of the Windsor Castle fire.
  • Insurance discounts - insurance companies can offer large discounts for buildings that are protected by sprinklers.

Sprinklers - The Myths

Myth 1:  When there is a fire all the sprinkler heads go off at once.
Wrong.  Each head is independent and only the head(s) adjacent to the fire go off.

Myth 2:  Water damage is as bad as the fire damage.
Wrong.  A typical sprinkler discharges 55 litres per minute.  A firefighting hose discharges over 600 litres per minute.  You can expect a sprinkler to discharge less than five per cent of the water used by the fire service.

Myth 3:  Sprinklers can go off accidentally.
Wrong.  Records show that the chance of an accidental discharge from a sprinkler is in the region of 16 million to one.

Myth 4:  Sprinkler Systems are expensive.
Wrong.  It is estimated that the costs of a sprinkler system can be recovered over a period of about 10 years. This is achieved through reduced insurance premiums and in larger organisations through less disruption to business continuity when a fire occurs.  Installed in a new building, a sprinkler system should not cost more than one to two per cent of the total build cost. 
Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is committed to increasing the number of sprinklers systems in 'at risk' premises, in newly built schools and in residential care premises.  We are working with the Residential Sprinkler Association, National Fire Sprinkler Network, local councils, social care services, landlords, architects, construction companies and others to achieve this.

The Chief Fire Officers Association has produced a supporting document, called 'A Guide to Automatic Water Suppression Systems (AWSS) and Their Practical Application', to promote the use of such systems and dispel some myths such as those mentioned above.  You can download this document from the list of related information, below.