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History Of Fire Sprinkler Systems

Fire extinguishers can dramatically increase the safety of your home. Although fires in the home are sadly still a common occurrence in the UK, they were much more common in the past. Open fires and candles had to be used because electricity had yet to be invented and unsurprisingly it was a lot easier for fires to start back then.

Fire safety is rather more comprehensive now and although fire sprinklers may not be the oldest advancement in personal safety they may have been around a bit longer than you think. They were first introduced in the early 19th Century. For more information related to the history of fire sprinklers continue reading our overview below.

The First Fire Sprinkler Systems

The very first sprinkler system was invented in 1812 in London. The system was devised for use in the Drury Lane Theatre. Numerous candles and open flames were required to illuminate the stages so that the theatre goers could enjoy the action on stage. Obviously this posed a rather serious fire risk.

Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet is named as the sprinkler system inventor on the patent documents. The first system differed radically from the systems we are familiar with today.

First of all, they weren’t automatic. He connected a reservoir of water to a distribution pipe which had a number of smaller pipes attached to it with numerous holes all over it. When water from the reservoir was dispatched to the distribution pipe it would send water through the smallest holes to put out any fires. Of course the system would have been used much like we use fire extinguishers today, as a method of stopping fires as soon as they have been noticed. These sprinkler systems were later implemented in textile mills across America.

The First Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems

The sprinkler systems we use today are automatic. The first design of an automatic sprinkler system was created in 1872 by Phillip W. Pratt. The first of their kind was fully realised in the United States in 1874. The designer was Connecticut born inventor, Henry S. Parmalee, who himself was inspired by Pratt’s earlier patent. Those who have studied both patents agree that Parmalee improved upon Pratt’s design.

This automatic sprinkler system was first installed in a piano factory owned by its inventor. The device was reconfigured by Pratt numerous times between 1874 and 1890, when he added a glass disc which would shatter at certain high temperatures to allow water to flow freely putting out any fires.

This design has been the basis of the same design we use today and without it these sprinklers may work in a completely different way. These early automatic sprinklers were particularly popular in factories and large businesses which had a number of staff working there, alongside many large and extremely expensive machines and production lines.

Fire Sprinkler Systems in Common Use

Fire sprinkler systems were only used in business up until 1940. However, following this period new laws were passed in the United States that made it a mandatory requirement for a certain number of sprinkler systems to be installed in any buildings with a large enough number of occupants. The types of buildings that implemented these changes included schools, hospitals, hotels and most other major public buildings, such as libraries and law courts. They were also installed in buildings and areas that were at a higher risk of fire damage than most places. These buildings included petrol stations, shopping malls, factories and power stations.

People began to see that these systems could reduce the work of the emergency services across the country, freeing them up to help more people in worse situations. The United States use sprinkler systems much more than we do in the United Kingdom and across Europe. However this has changed over the last decade or so. Following a fire, which had a number of fatalities in Düsseldorf airport in 1996, German law now states that all airports and high occupancy businesses and areas across the country need to have fire sprinkler systems fitted.

There has never been a recorded instance of a fatal fire in the home of anyone that had a sprinkler system in place. There are now similar systems in place all across Europe, due to a number of similar instances. The last reported case of fatality due to the lack of sprinkler systems was in 2005, when eleven illegal immigrants died in the Netherlands, when the detention centre at Schipol airport went up in flames. It is now a legal requirement across Europe that any correctional facilities have sprinkler systems fitted.

The Sprinkler Systems of Today

Sprinkler systems are now coming into more common use in domestic settings. More and more home owners and landlords are investing in fire sprinkler systems in the home to ensure that their families and their property are secure.

The statistics associated with fire sprinkler system implementation speak for themselves. You are infinitely safer in your home if you have a sprinkler system fitted. The first country in the world to make it a legal requirement for all new builds to have sprinkler systems fitted was Wales. The UK has since inspired a number of other countries to follow suit, including North America and most of Europe. This law includes all buildings, from university residences, hospitals, apartment blocks, airports, schools and public buildings.

It may only be a matter of time before it is a legal requirement for all buildings, regardless of age, to have sprinkler systems installed. Interest has been renewed in this cause all across the world thanks to the National Fire Sprinkler Networks of Britain and Europe.

As the years go by and the track record of these sprinkler systems continues with such impressive results, more countries will follow the Welsh example and make it a mandatory requirement to fit sprinkler systems in all new builds. Most countries across Europe have made it mandatory that all commercial buildings are fitted with fire sprinklers. They are obviously more effective and useful than smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.

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In 2010-11, there were 388 fire-related deaths in Britain, 28 fewer than in 2009-10. The highest number recorded was 1,096 deaths in 1979. (Source).




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