Sprinklers have become commonplace in buildings across the UK. To fire safety experts, they represent the contrast between Before Grenfell and After Grenfell. The devastating fire in a London tower block with poor fire safety equipment underlined what many had been advocating for years. Sprinkler systems save lives.
But property owners considering investing in the fire safety equipment may well ask: What water supply system works best with sprinklers? In this feature we will outline the challenges posed by water supply and explain why having your own source, specifically for containing a blaze, could mean the difference between life and death.
Sprinklers are relatively inexpensive to install when you consider the potential losses that could be incurred in a fire. For example, in a residential setting, the cost can be as low as under £2,000 for two-bedroom flat. If you are a landlord managing a portfolio of properties in large houses of multiple occupation or blocks of flats, the cost will obviously increase. Commonly, the bill is based on square feet. Likewise, sprinkler systems in retail, commercial and industrial settings are likely to cost a lot more than a system in a small private house.
In very small installations on one level, it is quite feasible to let sprinklers feed from a mains water supply. However, if a building extends over a larger floor space and, in particular, levels, challenges are presented. For example, water pressure from a mains supply will not be great enough to serve sprinklers on floors above a set height. There is technology available to get around this issue, but none beat the sprinkler tank.
Water solutions for sprinkler systems
Sprinkler tanks are the most common option for industry and tower blocks. They are also found in large public buildings such as hospitals and, increasingly, schools. They are rated for their performance, longevity and, most importantly, their ability to store even very large quantities of water. At a time when warehouse fires alone are said to be costing the UK’s economy a staggering £1billion a year, getting to grips with containment at the earliest stage has never been more pressing.
There is a misconception that, once the fire brigade is called, everything will be all right. Businesses and property owners need to understand that modern-day firefighters don’t just fight fires. Many are trained in emergency first aid and are often called to attend medical emergencies and situations where cutting gear may be required. Another serious issue is tenders running out of water. If this happens, there will be a wait for back-up to arrive. In the case of Grenfell, water was in such short supply that firefighters were sent into the burning building without it – a fact later admitted by a watch manager.
The best way to tackle a fire is as soon as it starts – with sprinklers. Having a system connected to its own water supply will ensure there is a good chance that the blaze will be contained. If you can stop a fire from spreading, you will limit damage, give people more time to evacuate a building and, ultimately, save lives.
During the summer, an 82-year-old woman told the national press that sprinklers saved her from almost certain death. Bedridden, she would have struggled to escape a fire that started in her bedroom – had the system not kicked in and quickly contained the blaze. The pensioner, who lived in a block comprising more than 50 flats, said she had been smoking in bed when the fire started. Water quickly doused the flames and she suffered only minor injuries.
In an earlier case, an 81-year-old pensioner described how sprinklers saved her life after she left food in the oven. Firefighters later said it would have taken just minutes for the kitchen to be destroyed had water not been delivered to the source of the blaze immediately. In both of these cases, having a reliable source of water was crucial.
Sprinklers and the problem of water supply
The most common type of fire sprinkler system is the wet-pipe model. It works on the basis of individual sprinklers. This means that sprinkler heads are only activated when a threshold is reached. As well as being effective, this system saves water and also prevents unnecessary water damage. A point worth noting is that many modern sprinklers take their design from one invented by Frederick Grinnell in 1890.
Nowadays, sprinklers are a requirement of Building Regulations in defined types of properties. This extends beyond commercial buildings, where they have enjoyed popularity for years because of the cost-savings offered through reduced insurance premiums. It is widely recognised that a sprinkler will activate in as little as one minute while it can take much longer for fire crews to reach the scene.
Therefore, the importance of having a dedicated water supply to feed a sprinkler system cannot be overstated. Surrey Live has reported that residents in a 17 storey tower block were told by the local council, their landlord, that sprinklers would not work during issues with the water supply system. Bottles of drinking water were handed out and the issue was blamed on defective pumps. However, fire safety experts say water should be stored separately for firefighting purposes and pumps should be maintained to ensure they deliver high pressure.
If you are a property owner considering the merits of investing in a sprinkler tank, the points raised above should give you an inkling of why they are a savvy choice. Too often, buildings have been destroyed because mains water is not a suitable option or there is a delay in the response to a fire because not enough water is immediately to hand.
Water storage for sprinkler systems
You can find out more about the benefits of having a sprinkler tank from Nationwide Water Solutions. It carries out site surveys to give building owners a good understanding of the requirements and where a tank would could be best sited. These surveys are free and help those managing properties fully understand the options available. In addition to installing sprinkler tanks the company can decommission and remove existing tanks.
It offers a comprehensive repair and refurbishment service for tanks that have been certified by a specialist as being suitable for remedial works. One of its most in-demand services in underwater tank surveys. Carried out with sophisticated equipment, this type of investigation allows every part of a tank to be checked for weaknesses including corrosion.