Monthly Archives: August 2017

From da Vinci to Grinnell The History of Sprinkler Systems

From da Vinci to Grinnell

The History of Sprinkler Systems

Automatic sprinkler systems have been saving lives and protecting assets for more than 125 years. Constantly primed to fight fires, they are commonly used across a wide range of sectors. Although predominantly used in large commercial premises, factories and publicly-owned buildings, such as hospitals and schools, sprinkler systems have become an affordable option for smaller buildings.

Leonardo da Vinci

The origins of sprinkler systems, and their use as fire-fighting tools, can be traced back to the 1500s – amazingly to Leonardo da Vinci. The French artist, scientist and inventor, best know for his portrait of the Mona Lisa and painting of The Last Supper, designed a crude sprinkler system for a wealthy customer’s kitchen. The room housed what has been termed a ‘super-oven’, along with a system of conveyor belts and, of course, his sprinkler system.

Unfortunately for da Vinci, his sprinkler system, which was not automatic, worked too well. When a fire broke out during a lavish banquet, the system caused a major flood. Water destroyed much of the kitchen and washed away all of the food.

The first successful sprinkler systems

Ambrose Godfrey used gunpowder to automatically release water from a sprinkler tank in 1723. But it was almost 100 years later before the world’s first ‘modern’ sprinkler system was installed. William Congreve designed the system for the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, and patented the invention. The system housed 95,000 litres of water in an airtight cylindrical reservoir. It was fed by a 250mm water main, designed to branch off to all parts of the building and feed into a network of smaller pipes that were pierced with holes. However, the system was not automatic.

The dawn of automation

Punctured pipe systems were used as sprinklers in textile mills in parts of America from the mid 1800s onwards. But it would take another 20 years before, in 1874, Henry S Parmalee developed what is considered to be the first effective automatic sprinkler head. He developed it for his own factory, which manufactured pianos.

Frederick Grinnell

Henry S Parmalee’s designed was advanced by the pioneering work of Frederick Grinnell, who patented his automatic sprinkler just seven years later. He went on to further improve his original design and, in 1890, developed a glass disc sprinkler that mirrors what is still used today. Grinnell is considered the ‘father’ of modern, automated sprinkler heads.


Sprinkler System Praised After Fire At Retirement Complex

Firefighters in Stoke-on-Trent say a sprinkler system averted a major disaster following a fire in a flat that is part of a retirement complex.

They have commended the city council and Your Housing Group, which owns the complex, for deciding to install the fire safety system when the complex was built.

The sprinkler system quickly contained the blaze before putting it out early on 16 March, 2017.

Fire detected almost immediately

According to reports, heat from the fire automatically activated the sprinkler system within moments of the fire breaking out.

Staff at the Oak Priory complex, in Abbey Hulton, near Stoke-on-Trent, were alerted when the sprinkler system and smoke detectors in the flat were activated. They were able to act quickly to escort the elderly male occupant to safety.

Fire service praises vital role of sprinkler system

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, which says an investigation into the cause of the fire has determined it was started accidentally, says the incident highlights the vital role sprinkler systems play in saving lives.

Speaking to The Sentinel newspaper, fire engineer Stuart Ruckledge said sprinkler systems don’t just save lives – they minimise damage.

The sprinkler system used at Oak Priory ensured a fire in a single flat did not spread to other parts of the complex, reducing the severity and impact of the blaze.

Call for more housing providers to install sprinkler systems

Mr Ruckledge pointed out the fire could have been “severe” with the potential to cause serious injury. However, because of the sprinkler system, the occupant of the flat was unharmed and the fire did not spread.

He said the incident highlighted how well sprinkler systems work and suggested more housing associations should invest in them. As well as protecting occupants and property, the systems also help reduce risks to firefighters, he said.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council worked with Your Housing Group during the construction stage of the complex when it was agreed a state-of-the-art sprinkler system should be installed.

A council spokesman acknowledged the fire had been contained “due to the building’s excellent safety features”.

Wavin manufacturing plant saved by sprinkler system

A plastics factory’s storage building survived a fire that could have destroyed it – thanks to a sprinkler system.

It’s business as usual at Wavin, a Chippenham-based manufacturer, following the blaze which broke out on the storage building’s first floor last month.

The 50m x 100m storage unit was fitted which a sprinkler system which was activated within moments of the fire breaking out. Fire chiefs say the system prevented the blaze from spreading before they arrived.

Crews from Chippenham and Corsham attended the fire and used two hose reel jets and four breathing apparatus to extinguish the remnants of the blaze. The incident was dealt with in just 30 minutes.

Speaking to the local press, Steve Lodge, the Watch Manager at Chippenham Fire Station, said the sprinkler system undoubtedly saved the building from more serious damage. Mr Lodge said the sprinkler system had suppressed the fire and stopped it from spreading.

He added: “It’s like a smoke detector – it detects if there is smoke or heat.”

As a result of the sprinkler system, the building was back in use the following day.

Nationwide Water Solutions Limited, which provides expert sprinkler tank services, says the incident highlights the important role sprinkler systems play in commercial buildings.

Michael Brightmore, managing director of Nationwide Water Solutions, said: “This building was obviously protected by a well maintained sprinkler system that was primed to work and did exactly what it was designed to do at the precise moment it was needed.

“Unfortunately, not every business is as conscientious as Wavin. We always remind those with sprinkler tanks to ensure they are inspected annually and any recommendations acted upon, so that sprinkler systems do not fail.

“There can be dire consequences if a sprinkler system does fail and that is why it is vital to ensure all sprinkler tanks are properly maintained.”

Sprinkler Tank Inspection Service

Top Five Sprinkler Tank Inspection Tips

Top Five Sprinkler Tank Inspection Tips

Sprinkler tanks must be properly maintained to ensure the integrity of any sprinkler system. Because of the vital fire-fighting role sprinkler systems play in a variety of buildings, across multiple sectors, associated water tanks should be inspected by a trained professional regularly. People’s lives and valuable assets, not to mention insurers, depend on their reliability.

Inspections are important to detect leaks and corrosion, as well as any weak spots in the tank or associated pipes. They also form a basis for future planned maintenance. Nationwide Water Solutions Limited, a specialist


covering the whole of the UK, advises those planning an inspection to ensure only an expert is engaged to carry out the work. Inspections should be conducted annually.

Here are Nationwide Water Solutions’ top five sprinkler tank inspection tips:

  1. Water conservation – Save time and money by engaging an inspection professional who can conduct a thorough survey without the need to drain the sprinkler tank. Michael Brightmore, managing director of Nationwide Water Solutions Limited, says: “Not only will this save water, it will negate the need for any downtime and avoid the costly and time consuming process of recommissioning the tank once the survey has been completed.”

  2. Underwater surveys – Ensure whoever carries out the inspection has submersible digital camera equipment that can survey the tank from the inside. This will provide evidence to support any findings and recommendations.

  3. Ultrasound – Super sensitive and extremely accurate, ultrasound technology can pinpoint weaknesses in tank walls as well as measure residual thicknesses of pipes. Because it can detect issues not visible to the naked eye, it is an excellent tool for inspecting sprinkler tanks.

  4. Inspection reports – Always ensure that your sprinkler tank inspector provides detailed written reports and supports inspection findings with photographic evidence. A written record of every element of the sprinkler tank should be supplied, and no component should be overlooked.

  5. Recommendations – Don’t ignore recommendations made in inspection reports. Failure to remedy any issues could affect a future insurance claim or worse. Mr Brightmore explains: “A sprinkler tank failure could result in serious injury, loss of life and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage. Ignoring recommendations made following an inspection is never worth it.”

If you need advice on any aspect of sprinkler tank inspections, contact Nationwide Water Solutions Limited for free, no obligation information.

Water Supply and Tanks for Sprinkler Systems

Life-saving sprinkler systems have one essential element and that, of course, is water. But how is water delivered when fire breaks out? Where does it come from?

Sources of water for sprinkler systems

Although water can be directly delivered from a mains supply, this is not considered the most reliable source – even with a booster pump. Because sprinkler systems play a vital role in life safety and asset protection, water supply cannot be left to chance. That is why most sprinkler systems depend on water that is stored in an on-site tank specifically designed and designated for fire-fighting purposes.

When a fire is detected, an automatic sprinkler system will deliver water from a full-holding, on-site tank to stop it from spreading and to keep routes of escape clear. Pumps, less commonly just a single pump, are used to get water to the sprinkler heads. It is important to note that insurers, and those who want added reliability, prefer two pumps to ensure a sprinkler system never fails.

Popular sprinkler system arrangements

A single water tank and two pumps are most commonly used for fire-fighting sprinkler systems. Each of the pumps has the capability to deliver water to all the sprinkler heads, should one fail. This means the system will remain fully operational at all times.

Because reliability is so important, those who require added peace of mind often opt for a water storage tank that can be split into two. These half-capacity or sectional tanks offer greater protection because the sprinkler system will remain fully operational – even during the annual inspection process, routine maintenance and repairs.

Water tanks for sprinkler systems

Water storage tanks used for sprinkler systems must be constructed to the highest standards. As well as being robust, they should need little maintenance, be resistant to corrosion and meet rigorous test standards set out in LPS1276.

Types of water tanks used for sprinkler systems include:

  • One-piece GRP
  • Half-capacity tanks
  • Large, sectional sprinkler tanks

Sprinkler tanks are commonly constructed from:

  • Glass coated steel
  • Galvanised steel
  • Epoxy coated steel
  • Stainless steel
  • Concrete

Water tanks for sprinkler systems should only ever be installed and inspected by fully trained experts. Because of the vital role they play, sprinkler tanks should be inspected at least annually and any recommendations acted upon. Written inspection reports, should also be accompanied by photographs. It is worth remembering that modern inspection techniques include underwater camera equipment which negates the need for a tank to be drained.