Fire Sprinklers and Environmental Sustainability

Fire continues to be a key source of loss in both homes and businesses across the world. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that in 2018, US fire departments responded to over 1.3 million fire calls with around ½ million of these occurring in structures. This was roughly one call every minute. The Business Sprinkler Alliance report one in five warehouses will have a fire requiring attendance of fire fighters in its lifetime.

Every fire can present a potential threat to life, damage to property and for commercial enterprises, the possibility of interruption to business. Fire is destructive, with not just the thermal effects of fire, but also the toxic and corrosive effects of smoke and the environmental effects of fire water from the resulting firefighting activities.

The potential impacts from a large fire include:

  • Fire damage to the building, equipment and stock
  • Smoke damage to both the immediate and potentially wider area
  • Potential impact to life
  • Carbon dioxide (C02) and other greenhouse gases released from both the fire and from the restoration activities for building, contents and stock
  • Water use for the firefighting and potential for fire water run-off to ground or water courses
  • Loss of business activities and revenue
  • Potential loss of employment
  • Potential reputation and shareholder impact
The National Fire Protection Association reports that sprinklers are effective at controlling 96% of fires in which they operated.

In summary, fire can impact business, supply chains, employment, the local community and the environment. A study in the UK reported the total cost of commercial fire claims in one year alone was £865 million, with a further £150 million of business interruption.

Fire sprinklers can provide an effective solution to reduce fire losses and its consequences, including the impact of fire on the environment. Sprinklers, activated by heat, are designed to control or suppress a fire in its early stages. As a result, most fires are controlled by a small number of sprinkler heads with only the sprinklers close to the fire being activated. This enables the responding fire brigade time to set up and conduct final extinguishment.

Sprinklers have a good track record. The NFPA reports that sprinklers are effective at controlling 96% of fires in which they operated. The average fire loss in a sprinklered building is around one sixth the size of a non-sprinklered building.

Sprinklers are a long-term investment which is realised over the lifetime of a facility. The value is most apparent in the event of a fire, when the sprinklers save most of the building and contents, with limited disruption to the business. There is, of course, some initial and ongoing investment to design, install and maintain the fire protection systems, however, if considered earlier in the design, the overall cost to a building project can be limited. Not only does this investment significantly improve resilience to fire, but it can also demonstrate good fire safety management to other stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, shareholders and insurers.