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Article Date: 13th March 2019

Xylem - The Smart Approach to Fire Prevention

Fire Prevention - Sprinkler Systems - Lowara Hydroquench - Installing Sprinklers

Xylem - Lowara Hydroquench

Every building should have some form of fire prevention in place, but sprinkler systems are by far the most effective in almost 100 per cent of cases.[¹]. Despite these credentials, their implementation across England remains limited. Mark Bradley, Northern Regional Manager for Business Services & Industry at Xylem UK, explains why this needs to change.

Whether accidental or intentional, fires damage more than just the structure of a building. They can wipe out millions of pounds worth of stock, destroy homes and the treasured possessions within them, damage hard-earned reputations, pollute the surrounding environment and, in the most serious of cases, cost lives. Since 2016, more than 80 people have died as the result of a fire-related incident in the West Midlands alone.[²]

The costs to local businesses can also be devastating. From April 2017 to May 2018, over 250 fire-related incidents in commercial or industrial buildings were recorded by the West Midlands Fire Service. Reasons for these fires were varied, but around 110 were due to “system faults”, particularly those relating to wiring or electrical supply.

Perhaps more alarmingly, more than 200 of these incidents were discovered by a person, rather than an automatic fire detector. The data also shows that 97 of the buildings involved had no fire alarm system installed, while 13 had an alarm system that was not functional.[³]

Stopping the spread
Fire can spread very quickly, particularly when it has the perfect combination of fuel, oxygen and heat. Having said that, it is actually the smoke caused by a fire that can kill, and this can pose a threat even before the fire has started to spread. It is therefore imperative that counter-measures are taken before the fire can harm people or property.

With the right measures in place, a fire can be contained quickly, thus stopping it from reaching the temperature and gas emission levels at which it becomes lethal to humans. The “right measure”, in this case, is a sprinkler system

According to the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), sprinklers are the most effective way to ensure that fires are suppressed or even extinguished before the fire service can arrive. Using a specialised suction and discharge pumping system, sprinklers harness water to deliver a concentrated burst of water in order to prevent flames from spreading.

A report conducted by the NFCC and the National Fire Sprinkler Network found that, over a twelve-month period, sprinkler systems responded effectively in 94 per cent of incidents and that, when activated, successfully extinguished or contained the fire in 99 per cent of cases. The research also revealed that sprinkler systems were 100 per cent effective in controlling fires in both converted and purpose-built flats

With such an impressive track record, surely every flat, school and warehouse will be lining up to commission and install a sprinkler system.

Figures released by BBC Breakfast under the Freedom of Information Act have stated that only two per cent of UK social housing blocks have a full sprinkler system, while a separate report by the National Fire Chiefs Council revealed that just five per cent of schools in England had sprinklers fitted.

According to Julian Parsons, an Executive Member of the National Fire Sprinkler Network, uptake is slowly increasing as a result of recent national tragedies.

“Tragedies like the Grenfell disaster have raised public awareness of sprinkler systems, leading to several demonstrations and protests from tenants demanding their installation in recent months. Landlords are also starting to see the benefits of installing sprinklers: this is particularly true of local authorities who are responsible for high-rise residential blocks.

“Nevertheless, general adoption still remains lower than we would like.”

The reason for these small percentages boils down to a lack of legislation on the use of sprinklers in England. In its current form, the law only requires residential properties of more than 30m in height and warehouses of more than 20,000sqm to be fitted with sprinkler systems, although loopholes do exist. In Scotland, sprinklers are also a legal requirement for residential buildings, including care homes, sheltered housing, school accommodation and high rises of more than 18m – something the National Fire Sprinkler Network is eager to imitate.

“At the NFSN, we are continually lobbying the government to legislate in England in the same way as Scotland and Wales, ” Julian says. “Progress has been made, but more needs to be done to make everyone aware that sprinklers are the right way to protect people, property and the environment.”

There are currently few data to help us understand why general sprinkler uptake remains low, but a few lingering myths and persistent misconceptions about sprinklers, and how they work, may not be helping.

For facilities managers, particularly those managing existing buildings and older structures, the cost and ease of installing a sprinkler system will be the most pressing concern. In fact, most modern automatic sprinkler systems are designed to be commissioned and installed quickly and easily – this includes retrofits to existing buildings. Pipe connections for the suction and discharge of water can be fitted to existing water mains, although written consent will need to be obtained. An electrical supply can be provided by the mains, or by an independent power source, such as a diesel engine.

The installation of such a system could even improve the value of a property. “Developers could start to see sprinklers as a demonstration of their properties’ modernity and safety,” Julian says. “A bit like the way the automotive industry sells safety in its cars.”

Another barrier to widespread sprinkler implementation may be the misconception that sprinklers are easily activated and that they actually cause more damage when they discharge. As Julian explains: “TV and film often fuel the perception of sprinkler systems as unpredictable and unreliable when, in fact, the opposite is true.”

In reality, sprinkler systems are activated only when the smoke from a fire reaches a certain level, and only discharge from the sprinkler heads based in the vicinity of the fire. They also cause considerably less water damage than a firefighter’s hose, which discharges water at a much higher rate.

A few additional benefits
The water industry as a whole is enjoying a number of impressive innovations and developments, and the sprinkler market is no different. Xylem’s Lowara Hydroquench 3000 MK2, for example, undertakes an automatic self-test cycle in order to gauge pump condition, as well as frequent pressure and flow monitoring to prevent premature manual shutdown. This makes the Lowara Hydroquench both a highly reliable and low maintenance sprinkler system.

Once installed, a system such as Hydroquench can provide a number of benefits to a building, such as potential insurance savings and more flexibility in building design and planning. For this, you get a highly effective and reliable fire prevention system, ready to activate the moment it’s needed. Hopefully, it won’t be.

For more information on the Lowara Hydroquench 3000 MK2, please use the email option below:

[¹] Efficiency and effectiveness of sprinkler systems in the United Kingdom: An analysis from fire service data, NFSN, NFCC, May 2017.
[²] Data source: https://data.birmingham.gov.uk/dataset/wmfs-incident-data-since-2009, courtesy of the West Midlands Fire Service.
[³] As above.

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