British Labour Leader Calls for Sprinkler Retrofit

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, is calling for fire sprinkler retrofit of all social housing tower blocks in the wake of the June 2017 Grenfell fire disaster. In a November 9th speech in London alongside the party’s shadow housing minister, John Healey, Corbyn suggested that the government set aside £1bn in the forthcoming budget to begin the effort.

Noting that only 2% of all tower blocks are currently protected with fire sprinkler systems, Corbyn has suggested the retrofit project should begin with tower blocks exceeding ten stories in height, but eventually be extended to all council and association tower blocks. He pointed to the reduction in the nation’s ability to manually fight fires as helping to create the need, stating that 10,000 frontline firefighter jobs, one in six, have been eliminated over the past seven years as part of austerity measures. Corbyn’s remarks included some very positive statements with regard to automatic fire sprinkler systems:

“The retrofitting of sprinklers in all high-rise social housing is something that could make a vital difference to people's safety. The evidence is clear: where sprinkler systems have already been fitted, injuries sustained from fires have been cut by approximately 80% and deaths from fires have almost been eliminated entirely.

“When almost every authoritative source on the matter is saying the same thing - that retrofitting of sprinklers is necessary in high-rise housing - this measure is just common sense and will protect thousands of lives. Grenfell was an avoidable tragedy. It did not have to happen and it would not have happened if adequate precautions, including sprinklers, were in place.”

New Findings Show Sprinkler System Could Have Prevented London Tragedy

Recent reports that detail the origin of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London suggest that an automatic fire sprinkler system could have prevented the tragedy. According to the London police, the fire that killed at least 79 individuals on June 14th started in a refrigerator within a 4th story apartment, then spread to the building’s combustible exterior cladding. If an automatic fire sprinkler system had been installed in the building, it would have been expected to intervene and prevent the fire from reaching the building exterior.

Most large fire disasters involve some type of code violation or human error, and the Grenfell Tower fire may be no exception. Much attention is being focused on the fact that the aluminum-clad panels used on the exterior of the building contained a combustible plastic core. Although the aluminum cladding was intended to prevent casual ignition of the panels, the exposure from the fire inside the building reportedly ignited the exterior assembly, causing the fire to spread rapidly.

However, according to fire protection engineer Russ Fleming, who serves as the managing director of the International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA), “automatic fire sprinkler systems have a unique ability to make up for a wide range of other fire deficiencies.” He points out that in the 1990s, the U.S. General Services Administration asked the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to study the capabilities of automatic fire sprinkler systems and the level of protection that could be expected. NIST reported back three fundamental capabilities.  The first was the ability to prevent the room of fire origin from proceeding to flashover, a phenomenon in which all combustibles are ignited.  The second was the ability of sprinklers to limit a fire to a maximum size not exceeding 1 MW, roughly the peak burning rate of a single upholstered chair.  The third was the ability of sprinklers to prevent flames from leaving the room of fire origin. Fleming notes that “If an automatic fire sprinkler system had been in place to intervene, the Grenfell Tower fire should never have reached the building exterior.” This view is supported by a report on combustible exterior cladding published in 2014 by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, which contained the statement  "It is concluded that sprinkler systems are likely to have an effect on the risk of interior fires spreading to the external wall to become exterior wall fires.”

The capability of automatic fire sprinkler systems is now being recognized in the UK in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire tragedy.  Although the national government has not yet acted, individual towns and cities have already announced plans to retrofit their public housing tower blocks with sprinkler systems.  These include Birmingham (213 tower blocks), Croydon (25 tower blocks), Sheffield (24 tower blocks) and Stoke-on-Trent (16 tower blocks). While it is an unfortunate fact of fire protection that progress is most often made in the wake of tragedies, the IFSA applauds the action of these communities for their decisive move toward improved safety for their citizens.

London Fire Tragedy Proves Need for Sprinkler High-Rise Retrofit

The Grenfell Tower residential high-rise fire that killed at least thirty (30) residents of London on June 14th and injured dozens of others reinforces the need for fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings, including the retrofit of these existing fire hazards. 

While all the details of the fire tragedy are not yet known, the International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA) points out that automatic fire sprinkler systems are the single most effective fire protection measure available, and are able to make up for a wide range of other fire protection deficiencies.  There has never been a multiple loss of life from a fire developing in a building protected by a properly designed, installed and maintained fire sprinkler system.

"Our question at this point is for decision makers, especially those who made the choice to not include fire sprinklers when improvements were made in the building last year," explains Bruce LaRue, Chair of the International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA). "Fire sprinklers minimize the impact fires like this one have on people, property, pets and the community. Fires like this shouldn’t grow to this magnitude because the technology exists to keep fire small and allow occupants to escape and firefighters time to set up and keep it under control." 

Alan Brinson, Executive Director of the London-based European Fire Sprinkler Network, stated “While fire sprinkler systems have been required in new high-rise residential buildings in England since 2007, we are still lacking legislation that would provide fire safety in existing buildings of this type.”

Why are fire sprinkler systems not being installed in these types of existing buildings? The uninformed answer is usually that it would cost too much. However, reality is that in 2012 the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) commissioned a report on the economics of fire sprinkler retrofit in residential apartment blocks of this type. The study concluded that fire sprinklers could be retrofitted with tenants in place at a cost of about £1150 per flat. Since the 24-story Grenfell Tower contained 120 flats, BAFSA reports that a fire sprinkler system could have been installed for less than 2 percent of the £10 million spent on refurbishment of the tower just last year, money that was wasted considering that the tower now appears to be a total loss.

The BAFSA report, entitled Safer High-Rise Living, the Callow Mount Sprinkler Retrofit Project, can be accessed at http://www.bafsa.org.uk/pdfs/publications/1/00000111.pdf.

Some suggest that individuals living in high-rise buildings experiencing a fire are safer to stay within their units than attempt to evacuate through smoke-filled corridors and stairways. However, it was obvious in the Grenfell fire that the extensive exterior fire spread made that impossible, and responding firefighters urged rapid evacuation.

Although fire sprinkler systems are not designed to control or extinguish exterior fires, experience has shown that they can play a major role in providing fire safety during such events.  In both the Monte Carlo casino hotel fire in Las Vegas in 2008 and the Sulafa residential high-rise fire in Dubai in 2017, individual sprinklers activated to prevent the exterior fires from entering the building, and no fire deaths took place.

The IFSA expresses its sympathy for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, and calls upon British authorities to revisit the issue of fire safety in existing high-rise buildings, specifically to consider a program for fire sprinkler retrofit of high-rise occupancies. Fires tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower can be prevented. Fires occur around the world in these same types of buildings that have fire sprinklers and, when that is the case, they seldom even make the news because the damage is minimal and no one dies.

EFSN Warsaw Conference a Success

EFSN Warsaw Conference a Success

IFSA Chair Bruce LaRue addresses Fire Sprinkler Warsaw 2017

The European Fire Sprinkler Network, in conjunction with its 2017 Annual General Meeting on 25 April, sponsored a 1-day conference in Warsaw, Poland, on 26 April. The German VdS and the Polish Scientific and Research Centre for Fire Protection (CNBOP) cooperated in the sponsorship of the conference. Approximately 170 delegates attended the Fire Sprinkler Warsaw 2017 and heard from a number of internationally-known speakers, including FM Global Vice President and Manager of Research Dr. Louis Gritzo.  Dr. Gritzo noted that fire sprinkler systems are capable of achieving more than 99% reliability, which EFSN Managing Director Alan Brinson noted was reinforced by a recent Swedish study indicating 100% success in that country.

Appearing on the program on behalf of the IFSA were Chairman Bruce LaRue, who discussed the potential role of the IFSA in assisting the fire sprinkler industry in countries like Poland, and Managing Director Russ Fleming, who updated the group on NFPA sprinkler standards and their advantages in bringing new technology to the marketplace.

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Need Confirmed for Fire Sprinklers in British Schools

A debate that has taken place over the past year regarding the need for fire sprinkler systems in British schools appears to have been settled in favor of sprinklers. On behalf of the National Fire Sprinkler Network (NFSN), Ronnie King OBE, who serves as Honorary Administrative Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety & Rescue Group, has been steadfast in his support of fire sprinklers for new schools, which generally have been fitted with sprinklers since the 2007 publication of Building Bulletin 100: Fire Safety Design for Schools (BB100). As such, he has led the opposition to a recent proposal to amend the bulletin by removing the “expectation that all new schools are sprinklered with the exception of low risk schools.” 

Although Mr. King’s concern’s were originally dismissed, he was able to point to an Executive Summary for the proposed revised BB100 published during 2016 that specifically stated:  “The Building Regulations do not require the installation of fire sprinkler suppression systems in school buildings for life safety and therefore BB 100 no longer includes an expectation that most new school buildings will be fitted with them”.

Mr. King set about raising support from the fire protection community, and in a letter dated 16 December 2016, Lord John Nash, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, clarified that while the draft revision of the bulletin was intended to make the guidance in the document more user-friendly, “unclear phrasing” in the draft has “inadvertently given stakeholders the impression that we have changed our position on fire safety. This is absolutely not the case.”

It has been pointed out that some fire risk assessments are being used to determine that schools can be considered “low risk” on the basis of life safety and that sprinkler systems are therefore not needed.  However, unlike fire safety regulations based on life safety considerations only, the risk associated with school properties is also required to be based on property protection considerations, and British schools have a long history of arson incidents.  British Home Office figures show there have been 1,900 fires in schools over the past 3 years with many resulting in a level of damage such as that experienced in the August 2016 fire at the Selsey Academy in Chichester, a total loss despite the efforts of 75 firefighters over hours of time. Students will be in temporary quarters until a new school can be built in two years. Although insurance covers some of the cost of such fires, national finances and society also bear costs, since a growing number of Academies are insured under a government program and because pupils’ education suffers when they have to use temporary accommodations.

Mr. King and the NFSN are now working to ensure that all ambiguities are eliminated in the revised bulletin, and that new British schools will continue to have the benefits of fire sprinkler protection as the norm.

IFSA Releases Reports Showing Dangers of Non-Certified Sprinklers

The IFSA has released two new test reports showing problems with non-certified fire sprinklers, in this case sprinklers removed from two existing occupancies in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Sprinklers were removed and replaced from a high-rise office building and an underground parking garage, both existing facilities in which the sprinklers were expected to be providing life safety to the public from the dangers of a potential fire.  The sprinklers from the office building were shipped to the Factory Mutual Approvals laboratories for testing, while those from the parking garage were sent to Underwriters Laboratories.  In both cases, the sprinklers were tested against requirements that all certified fire sprinklers are expected to be able to meet in order to carry out their mission to protect lives and property.  However, both laboratories uncovered significant protection problems with the non-certified sprinklers, making it clear that they would not have been expected to perform adequately in a real fire situation.

The Brazilian Fire Sprinkler Association ABSpk is currently attempting to alert fire authorities in that country about the dangers of non-certified sprinklers. It is hoped that these reports will help the effort to convince all levels of government that the quality provided by certified fire sprinkler system products is important to public safety.

Click here to download the UL Test Report

Click here to download the FM Test Report

AMRACI Forum Introduces New CONAPCI Organization

The first “Fire Protection International Forum – Mexico 2016”, held in Mexico City on September 13-14, 2016, was a success for its two co-sponsors: the Fire Sprinkler Association of Mexico (AMRACI) and the new Consejo Nacional De Protección Contra Incendio(National Council on Fire Protection), or CONAPCI. The event featured a product expo as well as two days of parallel sessions on various fire protection topics from an international roster of speakers. Speakers included IFSA Board Member Larry Thau and Managing Director Russ Fleming, who was honored at the event with a lifetime achievement plaque.

The new CONAPCI organization actually held its organizational meeting just prior to the event, and elected David Morales of FM Global as its inaugural president. The new organization ( www.conapci.org ) hopes to influence fire protection regulations in Mexico. 

The Forum also coincided (September 12-16) with the 2nd “Campaña Nacional de Protección contra Incendios”, (National Fire Protection Campaign), an effort to build public knowledge of fire safety. The effort is officially led through a burn foundation named Prevenir (website www.prevenir.org.mx).  Support for the program was demonstrated by the wearing of orange lapel ribbons. While the Forum itself had about 200 registrants, it is estimated that more than a thousand took advantage of the exposition, and plans will be announced shortly for the 2017 event.
Dais at opening of International Fire protection forum in mexico city

Dais at opening of International Fire protection forum in mexico city

ANRACI-Colombia Releases Conference Conclusions

Colombia’s fire sprinkler association has released a summary report on an international conference it organized only a year following its formation. Officially founded in July of 2015, ANRACI-Colombia hosted a highly successful international conference on July 28, 2016 in conjunction with the Colombian Society of Engineers, focusing on the present and future of fire protection in Colombia. The conference featured an impressive roster of speakers from both within and outside Colombia, including representatives from National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), FM Approvals, and AMRACI, the fire sprinkler association of Mexico. There were about 250 attendees, including representatives of the engineering community, the fire service, universities, and government, including Colombia’s National Fire Service Director.

The summary report can be found here:

http://anraci.org/agenda-academica-2016/presente-y-futuro-de-pci-en-colombia/conclusiones/

One of the keynote presentations was by Eng. José Joaquín Alvarez Enciso, Chairman of the Committee on Structures and Building Construction of the Colombian Society of Engineers, who discussed the present Colombian standards for fire protection of buildings, and potential areas of improvement. The IFSA was represented by Javier Leon of the Lubrizol company, who presented a congratulatory statement on behalf of the International Fire Sprinkler Association.

 

Attendees at JULY 28th ANRACI-COLOMBIA CONFERENCE in BOGOTA 

Attendees at JULY 28th ANRACI-COLOMBIA CONFERENCE in BOGOTA 

IFSA Alert - Avoid Overheating Fire Sprinklers

Automatic fire sprinkler systems are becoming more common in buildings around the world as they are recognized for their ability to protect lives and property from fire. To do their job effectively, fire sprinklers are engineered to be sensitive to heat, so that the sprinklers closest to the fire open quickly to distribute water, extinguishing or controlling the fire while it is still small.  But for these systems to be truly successful, it is also important that sprinklers NOT activate in the ABSENCE of a fire. For this reason system installers and users of sprinklered buildings must be careful to prevent excess heat from non-fire sources from accidentally activating sprinklers, including heat sources that have arrived on the scene fairly recently.

When a sprinkler system is originally designed and installed, building regulations require that potential sources of heat be taken into consideration. Prior to installation, sprinklers are required to be stored in a cool, dry place.  Direct exposure to sunlight and close proximity to heat sources must be avoided. While “ordinary” temperature rated sprinklers are typically installed in areas where ambient room ceiling temperatures are not expected to exceed 38oC (100oF), higher temperature rated sprinklers are available and are required to be used in areas where temperatures are likely to exceed this threshold.  Such spaces typically include areas near unit heaters, under skylights, in unventilated attics, and near heat-producing appliances and fixtures.

Although ordinary temperature rated sprinklers are designed to operate only when they reach temperatures between 57°C to 74°C (135°F to 165°F), repeated or long-term exposure to temperatures above 38oC (100oF ) can weaken the sprinkler’s thermal operating element.  While a weakened sprinkler may not fail immediately, it could potentially operate at an undetermined point in the future in the absence of a fire. 

Installing contractors should strongly consider providing specific direction to builders, within the contract documents, to avoid exposing sprinklers to excessive heat inadvertently during the completion of construction once sprinklers are installed.

During the use of a building, if it is recognized that unusual heat is to be present in an area protected with fire sprinklers, a qualified contractor or engineer should be asked to evaluate if ordinary rated sprinklers should be temporarily or permanently replaced with higher temperature rated sprinklers.

Here are some examples of potential problem areas involving excessive temperatures not related to the original building design, some of which are new:

Construction or Alteration-Related Heating

In some climates heaters are placed in areas where sprinklers are already installed to help dry plaster or paint more quickly, easily raising ceiling temperatures above 38oC (100oF ).

“Hot Yoga” Studios

Heating yoga studios to temperatures of between 32 to 47°C(90 to 117°F) has become a huge craze in many parts of the world.  Most classes reportedly aim for 37 to 41°C(98 to 105°F) to maximize the impact of the workout.

Bed Bug Remediation

While bed bugs were almost eradicated years ago, the surge in global travel and other factors have contributed to regular infestations. Room heating has become a popular treatment method and entails raising room temperatures to levels that are lethal for bed bugs in all areas the bugs can get to, including cracks, crevices, inside walls, etc. methodThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that bed bugs die when their body temperatures reach 45°C (113°F), but room treatments generally range from 47 to 50°C(117 to 122°F).

Ventless Clothes Dryers

 While ventless clothes dryers have been used in Europe for many years, they are fairly new to the North American market, where vented clothes dryers have been the norm. More energy efficient and more expensive than vented dryers, they generally incorporate condensers in a “two-loop” system to first heat some incoming air, allowing it to absorb moisture from the damp clothes, then continually condense the heated moist air to release the water before recirculating the resulting dry air within the clothes dryer. Unlike vented dryers, where moist heated air is exhausted to the building exterior, these devices capture the water to a drain or pan, while the heat from the condensing cycle is exhausted into the immediate area. Ventless dryers are so unusual in North America that the NFPA sprinkler installation standards don’t yet include them in the lists of heat sources (fireplaces, ranges, heat ducts, water heaters, skylights, etc.) for which higher temperature classifications of sprinklers must be used.

The condensers in combination machines that both wash and dry the clothes are generally water-cooled, such that quantities of cold water are used to condense the moisture evaporated from the clothes during the drying cycle, and pumped away through the drain line. But the standalone dryer units are air-cooled, using the ambient air as a heat sink. While this heat can be dissipated in a large laundry room, it can be expected to raise the temperatures within a laundry closet to levels unacceptable for ordinary temperature rated sprinklers. All makes of standalone ventless dryers are reportedly of this type.

In all of the above situations, the replacement of ordinary temperature rated sprinklers with higher temperature rated sprinklers can help avoid the possibility of an unwanted sprinkler discharge. With proactive communication, and adherence to code requirements and common sense best practices, installers, builders, and property owners can have a greater sense of confidence that their automatic fire sprinkler systems will perform as intended.

British Homebuilder Shows Sprinklers Can Protect Mobility Scooters

A British homebuilder, Lewisham Homes, has become an advocate for fire sprinklers in homes, funding research that demonstrates their effectiveness against fires originating in mobility scooters.  Storing and charging these scooters, which are becoming more commonplace, presents a fire hazard that the homebuilder believes should be addressed.

Partnering with the London Fire Brigade, the British Research Establishment (BRE) and the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), Lewisham sponsored tests at BRE that demonstrated the ability of residential sprinkler systems to provide protection for scooters equipped with either traditional lead-acid batteries or newer lithium batteries. Lewisham Homes has adopted a policy of providing sprinkler protection for its sheltered accommodations for older residents.

A link to the May 2016 research report and test video can be found at: http://lhomes.org.uk/1P3rLnR

Safety Alert Non-Certified Sprinklers

Safety Alert Non-Certified Sprinklers

Tuesday, June 2, 2015, Patterson, New York ‐ As a part of its effort to advance the use of effective fire sprinkler protection worldwide, the International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA) has identified a significant concern in certain regions of the world regarding the use of counterfeit fire sprinkler products, as well as those products that have no marking indicating that they have been certified by a reputable third party certification organization.

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