A fire sprinkler with a glass bulb

Recognizing the underappreciated work done by fire sprinklers at home, school, and work

Fire sprinklers save lives every single day. Yet rarely do we hear about them or give them the credit they deserve. Today’s blog is the second entry in our series on fire sprinkler success stories, giving a special monthly “thank you” to one of the world’s most forgettable—yet most reliable—life safety technologies.

In case you missed it, here’s a link to the January–February edition. QRFS invites readers to keep their fire protection systems up-to-code and up-to-date with safety equipment for residential and commercial buildings of all shapes and sizes.

Sweat it out, don’t burn it down: fire sprinklers save a YMCA in Longview, Texas

Every morning at 5 am, the sauna at the Longview YMCA automatically turns on and warms quickly to relax and refresh members. However, on March 12th, a rubber mat covering one of the sauna’s heaters resulted in a fire—one that could have grown relatively unnoticed until it consumed a large area.

Fortunately, that didn't happen. Fire sprinklers activated quickly, dousing the flames before the fire department arrived. “Without the fire sprinkler activation, this fire could have caused much more damage and placed lives at risk,” Longview Fire Marshal Jim Kambitz said in a prepared statement. Facilities like these can catch fire rapidly, as the video below shows:

The casualties: a small weight room, the women's sauna, and insurers' wallets. YMCA officials expect that their insurance will cover the estimated $15,000 in damage. Several affected areas are expected to re-open within a week. The sauna, however, will need to be replaced.

Bales of burning plastic take on Gainesville, Florida fire sprinklers

In this fire sprinkler success story, workers at a factory in Gainesville, FL, accidentally lit a scrap plastic bundle on fire. Given various nasty chemicals found in plastic (and its combustible nature), this fire could have quickly grown to engulf the 100,000 square foot facility and endanger the employee’s lives.

But that wasn’t the case. Instead, the building’s fire sprinkler system activated, snuffing out the fire and avoiding the worst.

Sprinklers save an apartment complex from a flaming mattress in Asheville, North Carolina

At 11 PM, February 25th, 2013, firefighters were called to a possible structure fire at an apartment complex in Asheville, NC. Upon arrival, they found a mattress had started on fire but was already out due to the complex’s fire sprinkler system. The sprinkler not only extinguished the fire, but it also contained all damage to one room and avoided the very real possibility that the fire would spread throughout the rest of the building. But a case from Sacramento County, California shows that not all people are so lucky:

Smoking causes nearly one in 10 fires in homes, according to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Of those, slightly more than a third start in bedrooms. But research shows that that smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems can significantly reduce the deaths and damage caused by these fires. It's one reason we keep up on the latest news in home sprinkler systems and provide extensive guides to installing them.

A Norwich, Connecticut science lab nearly goes up in smoke

This month’s last two fire sprinkler success stories strike particularly close to the heart. They involve schools—places now at the center of national debates about armed intruders and, at times, fire safety.

It happened at 2:30 a.m., when no sane student or faculty member is anywhere near the school. A computer in the science lab overheated, leading to fast-growing flames that torched ceilings and spread smoke throughout the facility. Once the temperature exceeded the fire sprinkler’s heat threshold, the glass bulb broke, releasing 6,000 gallons of fire-quenching water.

“When the crews went down the hallway to investigate, they were met by heavy smoke and water from the sprinklers,” Jencks said. “But they (the sprinklers) did their job and held the flames in check.”

The fire displaced more than 200 students who are housed, for the time being, in temporary structures. But while it's a major setback for a school that recently completed renovations, it's lucky that nobody was in the building—and fortunate that sprinklers kept the damage in check.

Sprinklers in Albany, OR kept an elementary school bathroom from becoming a death trap

Around 4 pm on February 25th, a fire erupted in the bathroom of the Linwood Elementary School. Students were on-site participating in extracurricular activities. The Albany Tribune reports that “[t]he fire damage in this case was limited due to the early detection and extinguishment by the fire sprinkler system that was in place.”

Stories like this illustrate that the potential for fire is everywhere—even in places generally considered safe. In this case, everyone got out safely and the fire sprinkler extinguished the fire quickly. But it's frightening to think of the damage that could've been done, had it spread any further.

Mitchell Elementary School fire

Other stories don't turn out so well: a fire at this Wisconsin school displaced students for months. Source: Fire Scene Investigations

Stay current with news, fire code briefings, and equipment from QRFS

Until fires don't make the headlines—and we hope that day is soon—QRFS invites readers to keep up-to-date with cautionary tales and best practices designed to create a safer world. Get the scoop on how members of the armed forces fight fires around the globe, how rural firefighters get ready for wildfire season, and more by checking out other entries in our blog.

Questions? Call us at +1 (888) 361-6662 or email [email protected].

This blog was originally posted at QRFS.com/blog in March 2013 and updated on November 1st, 2019. If this article helped you, check us out at Facebook.com/QuickResponseFireSupply or on Twitter @QuickResponseFS.