When it comes to comprehensive fire protection, certified automatic fire sprinkler systems offer proven valuable, reliability and payback potential. Frankfurt-based FM Approvals business development manager for EMEA, Witali Engelhardt provides answers to some key questions associated with these important loss prevention systems.
We all know why automatic fire sprinkler systems are critical for life safety and property protection. Unfortunately, there continue to be new examples of what happens when automatic sprinkler systems are not present:
London, England – On 14 June 2017, a fire in the 24-story Grenfell Tower residential high-rise, reportedly originating in a refrigerator on the 4th floor, quickly jumped to the aluminum composite cladding. The fire spread up the side of the unsprinklered building, reentering the structure in numerous places and took 60 hours to extinguish. The fire resulted in 72 deaths and more than 70 injuries. The residential building was built in 1974 and had been renovated in 2016.
Miryang, South Korea – On 26 January 2018, a fire at the unsprinklered Sejong Hospital in the city of Miryang killed 43 people and injured 149. According to reports, sprinklers in the six-story hospital were not required by law.
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA – On 14 July 2017, a fire in the 36-story Marco Polo condominium complex in Honolulu claimed four lives and resulted in more than US$107 million in damage. The fire, which began on the 26th floor, ultimately damaged or destroyed more than 200 units. The 572-unit complex was completed in 1971. According to a report by NBC News, all high-rise hotels in Honolulu were required to install sprinklers in 1983, and all commercial high-rises in 2001; however, the requirement had not yet been extended to high-rise residential buildings such as the unsprinklered Marco Polo. According to a report by the LA Times, studies by two separate groups estimated that the cost to retrofit the Marco Polo with automatic fire sprinklers would have been between US$2.4 and $4.5 million.
What is the evidence that automatic fire sprinkler systems are worth the investment?
According to studies by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), buildings outfitted with sprinklers reduce the death rate per fire by 81 percent and decrease the property damage by up to
68 percent. In its 2017 report, U.S. Experience with Sprinklers, the NFPA states:
“In fires considered large enough to activate the sprinkler, sprinklers operated 92 percent of the time. Sprinklers were effective in controlling the fire in 96 percent of the fires in which they operated. Taken together, sprinklers both operated and were effective in 88 percent of the fires large enough to operate them. In three-fifths of the fires in which the sprinkler failed to operate, the system had been shut off. Only one sprinkler head operated in four out of five (79 percent) fires in which sprinklers operated. In 97 percent of fires with operating sprinklers, five or fewer heads operated.”
In a study by a Fortune 1000 property and casualty insurer, over a 10-year period the average fire loss at locations where sprinklers were absent was US$3.4 million. By contrast, the average loss due to fires at locations equipped with automatic sprinkler systems was approximately US$600,000, or about six times less.
In the food industry, the loss differential between unsprinklered and sprinklered facilities is even greater. The same insurer conducted an international study of 88 food industry fires during 2010-2014 and found that the average loss for a food factory without a fully functional sprinkler system was US$9.3 million per incident, while the average loss for factories with functioning sprinkler systems was US$638,000, or nearly 15 times less (Fig. 1).
Where are automatic fire sprinkler systems required?
This is where things get tricky. The answer is: it depends on many factors. For instance, the requirement to install automatic fire sprinklers in any building is a fairly recent development dating back only a few decades in most cases. Depending on regional codes, many countries require automatic fire sprinkler systems in new commercial and publicly funded buildings, while the push to install sprinklers in older buildings may only be required in the case of major renovations.
According to the International Fire Suppression Alliance (IFSA), an estimated 135.8 million sprinklers were installed worldwide in 2016, including 65.7 million in Asia, 44.1 million in North America, 20.1 million in Europe, 3.2 million in Australia and New Zealand, 1.6 million in South America and 1.1 million in Africa.
What is the value in choosing an automatic sprinkler system that has been certified by a third-party testing organization?
All third-party certified sprinklers undergo extensive testing in accordance with the requirements of an independent testing laboratory. At FM Approvals, the evaluation of fire protection products such as sprinkler systems, may include up to 40 different tests to evaluate product strength, durability, reliability, resistance to environmental factors and expected performance.
Each test program includes an assessment of performance and marking requirements, an examination of the manufacturer’s facilities, and an audit of quality assurance procedures, supported by follow-up audits and re-examinations.
There are three categories of FM Approved automatic sprinklers: Storage, Non-Storage and Special Protection sprinklers based on the type of occupancy hazard they are intended to protect. Within these three categories are different types of orientations (such as pendent, upright, horizontal sidewall, vertical sidewall, flush, recessed, concealed, dry pendent, dry upright, etc.), thermal response ratings (i.e. quick response or standard response), nominal temperature ratings, K-factors and spacings (i.e. standard or extended coverage).
Because storage sprinklers (Fig. 2) are intended for the most demanding fire protection applications, these sprinklers are required to undergo full-scale fire testing in order to obtain FM Approval. The fire test program encompasses a comprehensive set of challenging, but realistic scenarios that directly evaluate the sprinkler’s performance. Sprinklers that are not intended for storage may or may not undergo fire testing, depending on the hazards each sprinkler is intended to protect.
How can you say most losses are preventable?
Most losses are preventable when risk engineering best practices are followed. This includes passive and active loss prevention throughout the entire building or facility. Automatic sprinkler system components that have been evaluated for performance and quality by a competent and reputable testing agency can help provide long-term loss prevention and reduce the risk of downtime due to fire.
By reducing or eliminating fire losses, building and business owners can significantly improve their overall business resilience and drive down the cost of fire risk. While the use of certified fire protection components (Fig. 3) is the basis for a quality fire protection system, it is still possible to install a bad system with good components if proven installation guidelines are not followed. It is not possible, however, to install a good fire protection system with inferior sprinkler system components.
What are the drawbacks in choosing non-certified or even counterfeit sprinklers?
In 2016, non-certified automatic fire sprinklers were removed from two facilities in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and sent for evaluation to FM Approvals and Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The evaluation was part of an initiative by the International Fire Suppression Alliance (IFSA) and the Brazilian Fire Sprinkler Association (ABSpk) to alert fire authorities in that country about the potential risks posed by non-certified sprinklers.
The 136 automatic fire sprinklers from a high-rise office building received by FM Approvals were evaluated in accordance with Approval Standard 2000, Automatic Sprinklers for Fire Protection. However, it should be noted that the condition and quality of the sprinklers received did not allow the full range of testing that would be required for FM Approval.
Tests conducted on the non-certified sprinklers included assembly load and frame strength, water hammer, hang-up of operating parts (i.e., lodgement), deflector strength, salt spray test, rough use, high temperature exposure, minimum operating pressure, distribution, and other tests. While the non-certified sprinklers failed many of the tests, the lodgement rate during simulated operation of 80 samples in single- and double-feed piping configurations was particularly troublesome. The cumulative lodgement rate for all samples was 42.5 percent, far exceeding the 1 percent rate allowed by the standard.
Tests conducted by UL on non-certified sprinklers received from the Sao Paulo parking garage also uncovered numerous deficiencies that could cause the failure of the sprinklers to perform correctly in an actual fire. Some of the deficiencies noted in the UL report included the use of O-rings as a sealing mechanism—no longer permitted in certified sprinklers—and various other non-compliant results such as lodgement of parts and inferior water distribution characteristics.
What specific benefits does sprinkler certification provide to manufacturers, specifiers, and end users?
FM Approved sprinklers, when used in accordance with appropriate guidelines, result in the need for fewer sprinklers, less piping and lower water pressure to operate. These innovations help specifiers and end users realize reduced costs, provide more effective protection options, and make automatic sprinklers not only simpler and cheaper, but also a more sustainable choice for loss prevention.
When a test program is successfully completed, the resulting Approval provides assurance that the sprinkler would be capable of protecting storage arrangements and commodities of a particular hazard level. Approved sprinklers are not only listed in the online Approval Guide but, just as importantly, Approved sprinklers are specified and accepted by most building owners, designers and code authorities, and regularly recommended to clients around the world.
Any legitimate certification mark that is recognized by authorities having jurisdiction and other fire officials is an investment that demonstrates a manufacturer’s confidence in their products and provides a high level of assurance to specifiers and end users that an automatic fire sprinkler system should perform as expected in an actual fire.
For more information, go to www.fmapprovals.com