European codes and standards increasingly recognise sprinklers and water mist.
Over the past decade, most European countries have introduced requirements to fit sprinklers in new high rise buildings. Most of those countries that did not already require sprinklers in shopping centres now require them there as well, and several countries now require sprinklers in large industrial buildings or warehouses. A number of countries also require sprinklers in large public buildings and in underground car parks while in Scotland they are required in schools.
Currently the most significant trend is to fit sprinklers in the places people live, since statistics show that is where most fire deaths occur. In the Nordic countries and the United Kingdom there is now a variety of requirements and incentives to fit sprinklers in care homes, apartments and even houses. This trend is set to continue, with regulators in several European countries currently considering whether to require sprinklers in new care homes.
For decades, the United States has made the fullest use of sprinklers as a fire safety and fire protection tool but Norway has caught up and may each year now install more sprinklers for every thousand residents (almost 650,000 in 2013 for a population of five million). Since July 2010 Norway has required sprinklers in new apartment buildings, hotels, care homes and hospitals. It already required sprinklers in all new large buildings. However, in 2016 Wales will go one step further and require sprinklers in all new homes, including houses. While I have used the word “sprinkler” to describe these legislative requirements and incentives, in many jurisdictions water mist can be accepted as an alternative.
These new requirements were introduced for a variety of reasons. The high-rise, shopping centre and domestic requirements are mainly intended to prevent fire deaths and injuries, while sprinklers are required in factories and warehouses to prevent loss of employment, environmental damage, and to protect firefighters who enter to complete extinguishment.
Fire safety codes are a confusing patchwork, with each country having its own documents of varying legal status based on different conceptual approaches. To add to the complexity, many countries have different or additional requirements in their regions or cities. It is safe to say that nobody has a complete overview of fire safety codes across Europe and that to do so would require knowledge of many hundreds of documents written in more than 20 different languages.
Most of these documents are not subject to regular review so new ideas can take a long time to be introduced. Despite this challenging background, sprinklers are steadily gaining references in fire safety codes as the European Fire Sprinkler Network and its members work together to make the case for the wider use of sprinklers. Our case has been strengthened by recent research reports in the United Kingdom that show that there is an economic case for fitting sprinklers in new apartments, care homes and warehouses. Although we can explain the need for sprinklers sadly it often takes a tragic fire to trigger regulatory change.
There will be more tragic fires. Meanwhile some huge underground car park fires, fortunately without loss of life, have prompted the Amsterdam and Paris fire brigades to call for underground car parks to have sprinklers, as is already required in Germany, Italy and several other countries. The European Fire Sprinkler Network maintains an overview of sprinkler requirements in 22 different European countries on www.eurosprinkler.org. If you can add to this overview I would like to hear from you!
When regulators and others call for sprinklers to be fitted in a building they usually clarify the requirement by referencing a standard. For industrial and commercial sprinkler systems we have a European standard, EN 12845, complemented by five component standard parts of EN 12259. Insurers often have additional system requirements that are set out in parallel national rules or as additions to EN 12845.
Many jurisdictions also accept designs in accordance with NFPA 13 or FM Global data sheets. The research underpinning these design standards is almost all performed in the United States and therefore the European documents are evolving to include new design approaches similar to those in NFPA 13 and FM Global data sheets.
A major revision of EN 12845 went to the national members of CEN a couple of months ago, which introduced early suppression fast response and control mode special application sprinklers. It also addressed excessive sprinkler clearance, provided guidance on test lines, electrical cables and third-party inspections, and updated the controversial life safety annex with a more appropriate name, “Additional measures to improve system reliability and availability”. The vote is due to close in October. Meanwhile we are working on a second revision that will introduce the latest storage sprinkler technology and make it easier to bring in ideas from other standards. All these changes serve to make sprinkler systems more economical and reliable, so making them more attractive.
To support the new regulatory requirements and incentives to fit sprinklers in care homes, apartments and houses, the market needs standards for their design and for their key components. Residential and domestic sprinkler systems are engineered to be as economic as possible yet give occupants a hugely increased chance of survival in a fire. They achieve this by using as little water and as few sprinklers as possible, with the water preferably supplied directly from the mains.
The Nordic countries, The Netherlands and the UK have published residential sprinkler system standards, drawing on the decades of experience with NFPA 13R and 13D. VdS in Germany has published a code of practice. However, this leaves all other European countries without a standard. We have therefore drafted a European residential system design, installation and maintenance standard and hope to send it to the national members of CEN for enquiry (comment) later this year. Ahead of that, a draft residential sprinkler component standard, prEN 12259-14, has already been sent to the members of CEN for enquiry. prEN 12259-14 includes the fire tests against which the existing residential sprinklers on the market were assessed in the United States, so residential sprinklers installed in Europe today are expected to comply with it.
Water mist systems also need standards if regulators and others are to accept or specify them. In 2006 CEN published Technical Specification 14972 on the design and installation of water mist systems. This document has helped the water mist industry to develop but it does not have the status of a standard and some authorities will not use it. CEN is currently drafting a design standard, accompanied by a series of fire test protocols for different applications. In parallel it has drafted a series of water mist component standards based on existing standards for sprinkler and gaseous extinguishing system components.
All fire safety building codes in use in Europe impose limits on fire compartment areas and minimum periods of fire resistance for those compartments. Some impose little else. A limit on a fire compartment area indirectly limits the distance anyone inside must travel to get out. It also limits the size of fire that firefighters may be asked to tackle. Fire engineers look for alternative ways to achieve an acceptable level of fire safety or fire protection and often include sprinklers in their designs. Sprinklers control or extinguish the fire, so that much less smoke and heat are produced, providing occupants more time, or even unlimited time, to get out. A smaller, controlled fire allows firefighters to approach and complete extinguishment.
Both considerations can justify a larger compartment. Outside the compartment, escape routes from the building receive less smoke and therefore need less ventilation or can be longer. Firefighters have more time to get to the fire so the building can be farther from a fire station, or more difficult to reach, or have less provision of wet or dry risers or be farther from a hydrant.
Most European countries have introduced requirements to fit sprinklers in new high rise buildings. Most that did not require sprinklers in shopping centres now require them, and several now require sprinklers in large industrial buildings, warehouses, large public buildings and underground car parks.
All of these ideas appear in various codes, usually with restrictions on their application. Fire engineers can combine them with other measures and analyse how a proposed building will perform in a fire at maximum occupant loading to see whether it is acceptable. Many building designs are only made possible by fitting sprinklers and many other buildings can be built more economically with sprinklers.
Fire engineering is a relatively new engineering discipline. ISO has drafted a series of standards to guide practitioners and CEN is drafting guidance to fill in the gaps. One draft CEN document sets out how to include sprinklers in a design as an alternative to the prescriptive measures found in most codes. Based on Swedish government guidance, it specifies that fire engineers should assume a constant heat release rate for fires that are larger than 5MW when the first sprinkler opens (a controlled fire) but that if the heat release rate is less than 5MW it may be assumed after a minute to begin a straight line decline by two thirds over the second minute (fire suppression).
All the above topics and more were covered in detail at Fire Sprinkler International, a major conference held in London in May this year. Jointly hosted by the European Fire Sprinkler Network and the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, the conference was held in the fully-sprinklered Grange Tower Bridge Hotel in the City of London. Over the two days 50 expert speakers from around the world presented to 300 delegates the latest sprinkler technology, progress with standards and campaigns to secure sprinkler recognition in codes. During the breaks, delegates were able to visit over 30 stands to learn more about the exhibitors’ innovative products.
Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor of London, opened the conference. Each day began with plenary sessions before breaking into parallel workshop sessions where topics were addressed in depth.
The first keynote speaker was Chris Hanks, Chairman of the Fire Protection Association and a senior figure in London’s insurance market, who gave the insurer’s view of sprinklers. He was followed by Debbie Smith of the Building Research Establishment and Oliver Hogan of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, who presented their reports assessing the macroeconomic impact of commercial fires, reports they recently launched at an event in the House of Commons. This reflected the conference theme of business sustainability and resilience.
Further sessions covered fire research, installer training, fire engineering, novel design concepts, water mist, building information modelling, evolving fire challenges, sprinkler standards, fire experience and analysis, pipe hanging and corrosion inhibition and measurement. There was also a presenter from Brazil who addressed the aftermath of the Santa Maria fire and a senior officer from London Fire Brigade presented its sprinkler policy and campaigns.
Complementing our conference, the next day the NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation held a seminar on storage fire protection. This was our 10th international fire sprinkler conference and exhibition and built on the 2012 conference in Paris.
For further information, go to www.firesprinklerinternational.com