Sprinklers highlight the difference between two fires

Two supermarket kitchen fires, two very different outcomes.  In November 2018, a chip pan fire that spread throughout a Morrisons supermarket in Folkestone caused the roof to collapse and destroyed most of the store. Four weeks later, an oven fire in the ground floor bakery of a Sainsbury’s in Altrincham, Cheshire was extinguished by an automatic sprinkler system in less than three minutes. It begs the question: why did one supermarket have sprinklers and the other not?

Whilst thankfully all staff and customers were evacuated safely from the Morrisons in Folkestone, the early morning fire in the café kitchen spread quickly and engulfed three quarters of the building prior to the roof collapsing. The fire caused disruption to local businesses and residents, some of whom had to be evacuated.  For Morrisons, this will cause loss of earnings along with business disruption as their store will have to be rebuilt, a temporary store erected and staff will need to be redeployed.

In contrast, the bakery oven fire at Sainsbury’s in Altrincham had a very different outcome, with an automatic sprinkler system activating and extinguishing the fire prior to the arrival of the Fire and Rescue Service.  The store reopened three hours after the fire started with damage limited to less than £500. This figure is minuscule when compared to the substantial cost of rebuilding the Morrisons supermarket and the loss of business incurred.

There is clear evidence that sprinklers work and are one of the most efficient ways to reduce the impact of fire because they control or even extinguish it before the Fire and Rescue Service arrives.  In an independent report carried out by Optimal Economics, thousands of incidents have been analysed to provide detailed and comprehensive analysis of the activation and performance of sprinkler systems used to control fire in buildings.  The evidence shows that sprinkler systems have an exceptional operational reliability and demonstrates that when called to work, they have a very high reliability.

We must always be thankful when a fire is contained and extinguished with no loss of life, but it is not enough. Lives are still affected regardless, and we must strive to minimise the effect that fire has in all circumstances. When we protect property and halt the spread of fire we not only protect lives, but we also protect businesses and jobs. A properly controlled fire can be the difference between a building requiring renovation or demolition. Halting the spread of fire when it is first detected is the best way to limit damage and so also minimise costs and impacts, and sprinklers have been shown to contain, control or extinguish fires in 99% of cases1.

The contrast between two buildings with and without a sprinkler system in a fire can be quite stark. In the event of a fire, many businesses with sprinkler systems suffer a minor interruption and find they are back up-and-running in a matter of hours. Those without can see 5 to 6 times the damage and suffer longer spells of interruption. These systems make buildings and businesses resilient to fire incidents because they control or extinguish a blaze before the fire and rescue service arrive. The impacted business can be operational within hours, avoiding the economic and social costs.

1Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data – Optimal Electronics May 2017

For more information about the BSA visit the www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org