Sprinklers: A time to retrofit


In light of the Grenfell fire and the decision by many councils and housing associations to consider retrofitting sprinklers in existing buildings, designers and stakeholders across other sectors including hotels, healthcare, commercial and industrial all need to recognise the value of fire protection with sprinklers systems, both in terms of protection of life as well as protection of property.


Retrofitting should not be restricted to residential buildings. When a fire occurs in the commercial or industrial sector, the worst case scenario is the closure of the business. It can prove impossible for small businesses and some medium-sized ones to recover from the effect of fire; and evidence shows larger businesses often choose to consolidate operations in other sites following the loss of a site to fire. Both productivity and jobs are lost in these cases.


In either case, the resulting fire has an impact on a number of businesses within the supply chain. Companies supplying the fire-damaged business will lose business temporarily or even permanently; businesses which depend upon products or services from the fire-damaged business have to find other means of supply; businesses surrounding the fire-affected business will often have to cease trading for the duration of the fire and sometimes even longer. These fires can also cause transport disruption, while many also require residential evacuations and school closures.


Recent devastating fires at the Weybridge Health Centre and Camden Market have brought into sharp focus the vulnerability of unsprinklered buildings. The Weybridge Health Centre fire in the early hours of July 12th spread across all three floors of the building. The unsprinklered building was completely destroyed and all medical services have been transferred to alternative sites. In addition to the disruption to staff and patients in the local community, the fire caused the evacuation of nearby residents and road closures.


At Camden Market three days earlier, 10 fire engines and 70 firefighters attended a blaze in a building containing different businesses and market stalls. While the cause of the fire is under investigation, the first, second and third floors, plus the roof of the building were severely damaged by the blaze. This market building did not have sprinklers which is in stark contrast to a fire earlier on February 28th that broke out at the Stables Market in another area of Camden Market. In this case, a sprinkler system had been retrofitted and helped control the spread of the fire at a market stall until firefighters arrived, with crews able to confine the fire on the ground floor where the blaze originated. The sprinklers controlled the fire spread in the Stables Market fire, limiting damage to the building and preventing anyone from being put at risk.


So as well as limiting fire damage and being potentially life-saving devices, sprinklers and other fire suppression systems helped with business continuity by minimising disruption and allowing businesses to get back to normal as soon as possible.


One of the most efficient and effective ways to reduce the impact of fire is through measures which ensure that when fires start they are quickly extinguished so that damage is minimised. Fire sprinkler systems do just this – they make buildings and businesses resilient to the impact of fire because they automatically control or even put out the fire before the fire and rescue service arrives, with the result that the business can be up and running again usually within hours of the incident.


Proven time and again with consistent reliability, sprinkler systems control or extinguish fires in 99% of cases and are a small price to pay to ensure people and property are protected.