A sprinkle of safetyby Jim Marshall | Shared x 3
In February ground-breaking legislation was passed by Welsh Assembly Government that will require all new Welsh properties to have fire sprinklers installed. On the face of it, this is a life-saving initiative which will be welcomed by many and which is likely eventually to be followed in England. Indeed for water companies, fighting fires in their early stages through the activation of a sprinkler will reduce the demand on the network put on by fire tenders at the time of a more established incident and reduce the environmental impacts of wash water run-off. The difficulty arises with the details of providing and maintaining suitable water supplies.
The benefits were discussed at this year’s All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group sponsored National Fire Sprinkler Network Parliamentary Seminar in the House of Lords this week.
As an industry, we are much maligned by the sprinkler industry as being difficult to work with and unmoving in our requests for separate connections, meters, storage options or pumps. Our requests are often grounded in the Water Fittings Regulations or in the logistics of hydraulically providing water at the right pressure and flow to ensure proper sprinkler head function.
Years of work with the Water Liaison Group (part of the National Fire Sprinklers Network) have tempered this a bit and there is an understanding of our primary requirement to provide potable quality water and that this may be compromised by poorly installed, operated or maintained fire sprinkler systems.
Then there is the issue of metering. All new supplies should be metered, but water taken for fire fighting cannot be charged for. This doesn't mean that fire fighting water cannot be measured. The issue is that pressure losses imparted by meters small enough to measure normal domestic flows can compromise the operability of sprinkler heads. There are technological fixes but these add cost and complexity to the design.
The statistic that is often (mis)quoted is that nobody in the UK has died as a result of a fire in a property that was fitted with a sprinkler system. On the other hand, the legal position for the water companies is unclear, were someone to die due to a problem with the water supply. At the very least, the adverse publicity could be very damaging for the industry. This issue will need careful consideration in any implementation of domestic sprinkler systems.
The new legislation in Wales puts the spotlight onto questions such as how such measures can work and the role of the water companies in achieving this beneficial outcome while ensuring quality is not compromised. There are obstacles, but in the perspective of saving lives, it should be able to overcome them.