If one fire sprinkler goes off, do they all go off? Part 1

Posted: Monday, November 16, 2015

My kids love to watch action movies with me.  They know that in one out of ten movies, they will see me come unglued.  It seems that whenever the hero or heroine needs to cause a big distraction in a building, all they need to do is pull a fire alarm pull station, or shoot out a fire sprinkler. Inevitably, this creates the biggest distraction you can imagine. Hundreds of fire sprinklers go off  throughout the office building and the hero escapes amidst the chaos. This is when I groan. My kids (I have six), will all look over to me in anticipation for the reaction.  It has become a family tradition, unfortunately.

As a fire protection contractor, this is one of the most commonly asked questions by our customers.  Popular culture has not been a friend to the fire sprinkler industry with the hundreds of television and movie scenes where “The Distraction” occurs.  I can totally understand the misconception and why the public is unsure how these systems work.  Thank you Hollywood!

To be clear, 99.9% of sprinkler systems are what is called a ‘closed head’ system.  This means that there is water in the pipe ready to put out a fire, but it is held back by a fusible link or a glass bulb.  The links and bulbs are designed to trigger when the ambient air temperature goes above a set point, typically 155 degrees in most applications, before the fire sprinkler will operate.  In my experience, it is very rare that more than one fire sprinkler will go off to either put out or control a fire.  Each fire sprinkler is an individual heat detector.  When the sprinkler head reaches the design temperature, only the fire sprinklers exposed to that increased temperature go off. 

Since 1986, Piper Fire has installed, inspected, and serviced over 10,000 fire sprinkler systems.  On average, we have had 10-12 fires a year at the properties that we manage.  In all of these years, I can only remember a small number of fires that had more than two fire sprinklers go off.

Pulling a pull station will not set off closed head fire sprinklers either…  99.9% of pull stations activate the fire alarm only.  

So, Bruce Willis, the next time you need a distraction, you are going to need to shoot out skylights or bring a back pack full of fire works, because the sprinkler system is not going to do it for you.

Please visit us at PiperFire.com to learn more about your fire protection systems and how we can help you take the headaches out of managing your fire protection. 

As always, your life safety is our life mission!