10 most common myths about commercial fire sprinklers

Many of the common myths about commercial fire sprinklers come from Hollywood. Yes, think of any scene from a movie where the sprinkler system is activated and it’s almost always not a factual situation. There has even been a website launched to track every film and television show where sprinklers are misrepresented going back as far as 1937.

Whether misinformation is gleaned through films or if it’s just an ongoing misunderstanding, here are some of the most common myths about sprinklers:

1) Sprinklers activate when an alarm is pulled

Nope. Doesn’t happen like that, at least not in most situations. Very few systems are designed so that sprinklers will release water at the pull of an alarm. In most situations, the sprinkler heads have a thermal element in them that will melt at a specific temperature, or there will be a liquid in the element that expands with heat, allowing the sprinkler to activate when the element bursts.

2) Sprinkler systems only contain water

While it’s true that office spaces, shopping malls and residential buildings are equipped with wet pipe systems that contain water, this is a common myth about commercial fire sprinkler systms. For example, water used in a kitchen fire could only make the situation more dangerous. Therefore, wet chemicals containing organic or inorganic salts are mixed with water so the fire can be extinguished in what’s called a saponification process, which suffocates the fire.

3) All sprinklers activate at the same time

Rather than risk releasing suppression agents on unaffected areas of a property, only the sprinkler heads in the proximity of the fire will activate to suppress the fire.

The one type of system that is designed so that all sprinklers activate at the same time is in a deluge system. In this situation, the system is protecting a structure that contains highly combustible fuels, which can grow from a spark to a raging inferno in seconds. Therefore, it’s important to get a large amount of suppressant on the flame quickly before it gets out of hand.

4) Sprinkler systems are more damaging than fire

While a deluge system might cause a fair amount of damage, other systems will only suppress affected areas of a structure, keeping the fire from growing and thereby limiting the damage. This also limits the amount of smoke damage that is common in structure fires.

Consider that a fire department will unleash between 50 and 125 gallons of water per minute compared to a sprinkler system’s eight to 24 gallons of water every minute. By the time the fire department gets there, your fire has likely doubled or tripled, and now it’s going to get flooded by the fire hoses. A sprinkler system has the potential to quickly contain the fire with the minimum amount of water required.

5) Structures that meet building code requirements don’t need sprinkler systems

This is another common myth about commercial fire sprinklers. Just because your building is designed in a way that passes your local, state and federal fire codes, doesn’t mean it is fireproof. Rather, it’s designed in such a way that occupants can get out safely before a fire grows out of control. A commercial fire sprinkler system will help to address property loss prevention by knocking down the threat quickly and efficiently.

6) Sprinklers leak or activate accidentally

Your home plumbing system is far more likely to leak and cause water damage than your home sprinkler system. In fact, sprinkler leaks are exceedingly rare. Furthermore, there exists a nagging fear that a small fire, say on a stovetop, will set off the sprinklers. That doesn’t happen – fire sprinklers are activated by heat, not smoke.

7) Pipes will burst in cold climates

Fortunately, there is a method fire sprinkler system vendors have for preventing frozen and burst pipes while also protecting structures. The national installation standard that vendors follow provides them with expert guidance for installation in cold regions. Furthermore, dry pipe systems are specifically designed for cold weather conditions as they keep all the water behind a pump, which means any unheated areas of a structure won’t have water in the pipes until an emergency occurs and the pump sends water to the sprinkler heads.

8) The fire department can be my sprinkler system

When a fire breaks out, your sprinkler heads will activate at a specific temperature, which means once a fire grows to a threat level, it is immediately suppressed. While the fire department is great at what they do, they can’t be as efficient as your sprinkler system. Most fire trucks won’t be at your structure for nine to 12 minutes, on average, which is plenty of time to let your fire get out of control and cause major damage.

9) My smoke detectors are sufficient in protecting my property

Every structure should have smoke detectors installed because they do save lives by giving everyone sufficient warning that there is a problem. However, they can’t suppress a fire for you. And unfortunately, many smoke detector batteries are allowed to drain and are never replaced, which only offers a false sense of security. A fire sprinkler system is always at the ready.

10) Testing and inspecting my sprinkler system is unnecessary

All parts of your fire protection system need to be in working order if you’re going to be protected in the event of a fire. The only way to ensure this is to have frequent inspections and testing carried out by professionals. Dry testing every quarter is a must.

At Valley Fire Protection, we’re the experts in fire sprinkler system design, build and installation. Contact us today and let’s discuss the advantages of having a fully functioning system protecting your property.

Related Topics: Commercial // Sprinklers
By: Tom Hartel
I acquired my expertise by directing day-to-day operations of the business for over 20 years. Continuous hard work helped me become a nationally recognized speaker and expert on fire protection, fire sprinklers, special hazards, and plumbing systems. In this blog, I share my knowledge that will hopefully help you make better decisions for your projects.


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