What is an Automatic Fire Sprinkler?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An automatic fire sprinkler is a device which is designed to activate automatically when a fire occurs, spraying water to suppress the fire and keep smoke down. As a general rule, all fire sprinklers are automatic because these systems are designed as active fire protection systems which will kick into operation without requiring any activity on the part of a human operator. Sprinkler systems are required by law in many types of buildings around the world, and in others, they are strongly recommended.

A fire sprinkler is designed to spray water to suppress a fire.
A fire sprinkler is designed to spray water to suppress a fire.

Fire sprinkler systems generally operate on dedicated plumbing which is designed to ensure a steady supply to the sprinklers in the event of a fire. Each sprinkler is equipped with a small glass bulb filled with fluid. When the room heats up, thermal expansion causes the bulb to break, activating the sprinkler. An automatic fire sprinkler can be rated to activate in different temperatures, depending on the setting and the need.

According to fire researchers, automatic fire sprinkler systems save lives. In fact, multiple loss of life has not been recorded in a sprinklered building with properly operating sprinklers. Fire sprinklers also cut down on property damage and associated loss, which is one reason they are popular with insurance companies, as these companies know that the amount of a payout can be significantly reduced in a sprinklered building.

The installation of an automatic fire sprinkler system is, in fact, regarded as one of the most important fire safety measures which can be taken to protect people and property in the event of a fire. The system should also be combined with warning devices which will sound alarms and flash lights in the event of a fire so that occupants of the building can be made aware that there is a problem. Other fire protection measures include using fire resistant materials, designing structures in a way which will thwart the spread of fire, using electrical wiring which meets or exceeds the code, and taking other steps to reduce the risk that a fire will break out.

An automatic fire sprinkler system needs to be custom designed for the space. A fire protection professional can come in to review the space and draw up a scheme for sprinkler installation which will provide maximum coverage. The system also needs to consider the conditions in the space; for example, temperatures can be high near the ceiling in a kitchen, and thus a fire sprinkler system which activates at a relatively low temperature might end up going off on a hot summer day, which is not desirable. When designed well, the risks of inadvertent activation are very low.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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