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Frequently Asked Questions

Fire Sprinklers FAQs

Who invented the fire sprinkler?

In 1872, Philip W. Pratt patented the first fire sprinkler system. However, Henry S. Parmalee is widely credited with developing improvements on the original design. His improvements led to the development of the first practical automatic sprinkler head in 1874. Parmalee was a piano maker from New Haven, Connecticut who was looking for ways to protect his factory. His company, The Mathushek Piano Manufacturing Co, is recognized as the first building in the United States to be equipped with an automatic sprinkler system.

How do sprinklers work?

Fire sprinklers are most commonly activated by heat, usually between 165-175ºF. Fire sprinklers are normally closed and are connected to a system of piping that conducts water from the source (either tank or municipal) by a pump or pressurized system. Sprinklers are carefully located so that there is water distribution over the entire floor area to be protected. When heat activates a fire sprinkler, water discharges from the sprinkler onto the fire in order to control it or even put it out (ONLY SPRINKLERS THAT HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED BY HEAT DISCHARGE).

Are sprinklers activated by smoke?

No, fire sprinklers are heat, not smoke, activated.

If I have a fire or accidentally break a sprinkler, will all of the sprinklers in my building go off at once?

No. Fire sprinklers (excluding deluge systems with open heads used in high hazard occupancies) are set off by heat. When a fire starts, heat collects at the ceiling level, which in turn, heats up the sprinkler head. The sprinkler will only activate when it reaches its predetermined temperature. The only sprinklers that will discharge water are the ones that have opened due to being heated to their predetermined temperature. Many fires are controlled or extinguished with only one or two flowing sprinklers.

Why are fire sprinklers required in so many buildings?

So many municipalities require fire sprinklers because they are a proven way to limit death and extensive property damage. The key to keeping a fire from reaching potentially dangerous and life-threatening proportions is early detection. Fire sprinklers operate automatically in locations where fires start. By releasing water directly to the source of the heat, fire sprinklers keep fires from growing out of control. One or two sprinkler activations can usually limit or contain an outbreak of fire.

Why can’t we just rely on the fire department?

Fire departments are an irreplaceable ally in fighting fires, but they depend on onsite alarms to notify them after a fire breaks out. By the time they arrive, fire could have spread and caused considerable damage. With building fires, a bad situation can get worse more quickly than most people realize. Fire sprinklers should be viewed as an effective first line defense or a “first response” system.

Do sprinklers ever activate accidentally?

It is extremely rare that sprinklers ever activate by accident. A sprinkler discharge without a fire event is usually the outcome of freezing or structural damage.

Will sprinklers make my building look unattractive?

Today, there are a wide variety of sprinkler heads considered aesthetically pleasing. Sprinkler heads are made in numerous shapes, colors and configurations, including some that stay hidden in the ceiling until they are activated.

Are there insurance benefits for installing a fire sprinkler system?

Yes, there usually are discounts associated with installation of a rated fire sprinkler system. Ask your contractor for the specific description of your system and then call your insurance agent with the information.