Sprinklers Save Lives: It's That Simple

Automatic sprinkler systems have been used in this country for almost 125 years, but there still is a cloud of mythology that hampers fire departments in their efforts to protect more buildings with these proven lifesaving devices. The problem calls for...


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The real truth is that sprinklers save vast amounts of money. The current issue of Sprinkler Quarterly magazine reports on a study by the Plano, TX, Fire Department that shows a fire loss of $492,500 over a 15-year period in commercial buildings protected by sprinklers. The property loss in the same years for similar buildings without sprinklers was $12.3 million - almost 25 times greater!

When it comes to saving lives, nothing can equal or take the place of a sprinkler. The news media, the public and elected officials have to be taught that sprinklers prevent a delayed discovery and delayed alarm, while confining a fire to its point of origin, which prevents the buildup of heat and toxic smoke that is the killing ingredient in every fire. There are no statistics that show how many lives sprinklers have saved, but there is a long list of fires that have killed thousands of people in buildings that should have been protected by sprinklers.

Ironically, this country's on-going toll of fatal high-rise fires began in New York on March 25, 1911, when 145 people were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The investigation recommended sweeping code changes to require more exits, fire escapes and sprinklers. Eighty-eight years later, the FDNY is still battling powerful special interests to require sprinklers in every high-rise structure.

Similar problems exist in many American cities and you have to wonder how many more lives will be lost before mayors and city councils finally understand that sprinklers are not an option, but the essential, first line of defense against deadly fires in high-rise and other dangerous buildings.


Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired political analyst for ABC News in Washington and served for 40 years as a volunteer firefighter.