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Letters: Sprinkler Deployment Article Questioned

The article "Is it wise to put all your eggs in one basket" in the Aug./Sept. issue quoted statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).The article suggests that a drop in efficienc...

October 1, 2003  

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The article “Is it wise to put all your eggs in one basket” in the Aug./Sept. issue quoted statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The article suggests that a drop in efficiency from 96 per cent to approximately 83 per cent has taken place over the last century, specifically 1989-1998 in the U.S.

To quote the author, Tony Crini of AC Consulting Solutions Inc., “Advances in technology would suggest that at the very least, equivalent or improved performance would be expected. What are the causes of unsatisfactory sprinkler performance when it occurs?”

Mr. Crini does not attempt to answer his own question, therefore, please allow me to offer an answer and put into perspective what NFPA statistics include. To suggest that modern building codes regress back to reliance on the compartmentization theories that were abandoned decades ago is simply not to understand — and even misrepresent — the actual data.

The seeming change in reliability is not the failure of technology or unsatisfactory sprinkler performance, but rather the fact that not all fires occur in fully sprinklered buildings. Many codes in the U.S. and to a lesser extent, in Canada, have allowed partial sprinkler systems to be installed in buildings.

This has accounted for building designers to virtually guess where a fire will occur. The NFPA statistics reflect that they have guessed wrong in many instances, and fully sprinklered occupancies are the best solution.

I offer the following letter to the editor sent by Dr. John Hall of NFPA, who is responsible for the data Mr. Crini quotes from. His response is to a similar misuse of the statistical data curiously to suggest that old forms of passive fire protection should be resurrected and can somehow accomplish what they failed to do in the past, namely save lives.

“Readers seeing the statistic that sprinklers do not operate 16 per cent of the time may have assumed that these are all mostly cases of sprinklers being overwhelmed, since that was the situation cited in one building of the World Trade Center complex.

“In fact, most of the cases involve other conditions, such as a partial sprinkler system faced with a fire originating outside its coverage area or a sprinkler system that has been turned off by the building managers.”

The report of the “Part 3 Joint Task Group on Automatic Sprinkler Systems” to the Standing Committee on Fire Protection and Standing Committee on Occupancy, National Research Council of March 1993 indicated that sprinkler systems in Canada under current building code requirements experience a reliability rate of 98.6 per cent.

This reliability rate applies to fully sprinklered buildings where the system is installed. Again, the NFPA data includes fires in all buildings, whether fully sprinklered or not.

If the suggestion is to look at the basket, a careful look and use of the NFPA data suggests it is time to increase the size of the basket, not replace it.

John Galt,


Canadian Automatic Sprinkler Association

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