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FAQ / Fire Safety Advice

Automatic sprinkler systems have enjoyed an enviable record of protecting life and property for over 100 years. Yet, there are still common misunderstandings about the operation and effectiveness of automatic fire sprinkler systems:

Question Isn't a smoke detector enough protection?

Answer No. Smoke detectors can save lives by providing a warning system but can do nothing to extinguish a fire or protect those physically unable to escape on their own, such as the elderly or small children. Though nearly 90% of U.S. homes have at least one smoke detector, only 60% have working detectors, often because of dead or missing batteries. As the percentage of homes in America that were "protected" with smoke detectors increased from zero to more than 70%, the number of fire deaths in homes did not significantly decrease.
Question Do I need to test my system annually?

Answer Yes.
Question When a fire happens, doesn't every sprinkler head go off?

Answer No. Sprinkler heads are individually activated by heat. Residential fires are usually controlled with one operating sprinkler head. 90% of all commercial fires are controlled with six or fewer heads. Experience over an 82-year period in Australia and New Zealand with sprinklers documents an astonishing 99.8 percent effective rate.
Question Won't the water damage from a sprinkler system be more extensive than the fire damage?

Answer No. Water damage from a home sprinkler system will be much less severe than the damage caused by water from fire-fighting hose lines or smoke and fire damage if the fire goes unabated. Property losses are 85% less in residences with fire sprinklers compared to those without sprinklers. Quick response sprinklers release 13-24 gallons of water per minute compared to 250 gallons per minute released by a fire hose.
Question Isn't it true that sprinklers are designed to protect property, but they're not effective for life safety?

Answer No, this is not true. Residential sprinklers provide a high level of life safety. Statistics demonstrate that there has never been any multiple loss of life in a completely sprinklered public assembly, educational, institutional, or residential building where the system was properly operating.

The combination of automatic sprinklers and early warning systems in all buildings and residences could reduce overall injuries, loss of life and property damage by at least 50%.

Sources: San Luis Obispo County Fire Dept. & California Dept. of Forestry, Crusade Against Fire Deaths, Inc., The Institute for Local Self Government, Central Sprinkler Corporation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Fire Protection Association.

NFPA Statistics 2002 2001* 2000
Total civilian fire deaths 3,380 3,745 4,045
Total fire deaths in homes 2,670 3,110 3,420
Total number of reported fires 1.688m 1.735m 1.708m
Total number of structure fires 519,000 521,500 505,500
Total number of residential fires 401,000 396,500 379,500
Total reported civilian fire injuries 18,425 20,300 22,350
Total property damage from fire $8.742b $8.874b $9.501b
Total residential property damage from fire $6.055b $5.643b $5.092b
*Statistics from 2001 exclude the events of 9/11.

Reading Between the Lines:

About 79% of all people who die in fires, die in their homes. 77% of all structure fires occurred in residential properties. A residential fire occurs every 79 seconds. Nationwide, a civilian fire death occurs every 156 minutes.

Conclusion: The National Fire Protection Association outlines several major strategies that are key to reductions in fire losses and especially in home fire deaths, which are about 79% of the total fire deaths. They are:

First, we need more widespread public fire safety education on how to prevent fires and how to avoid serious injury or death if fire occurs.

Second, more people must use and maintain smoke detectors, and they must develop and practice escape plans.

Third, we must aggressively pursue the wider use of residential sprinklers.

Fourth, we must seek additional ways to make home products more fire safe.

And fifth, we must address the special fire protection needs of high-risk groups, such as the young, older adults, and the poor.

Source: Fire Loss in the United States, published by the National Fire Protection Association.

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