Fire sprinklers slow the spread of deadly heat and toxic smoke, preventing flashover. This also provides residents and employees with more time to safely escape. In most settings where there is a municipal water supply, sprinklers operate off the household water main. When the water supply is a well, or there is not enough water pressure, a holding tank is used.
How the Sprinkler System Works
Sprinklers are linked by a network of piping, typically hidden behind walls and ceilings. The high temperature of an early-stage fire (135° to 165°F) will cause the sprinkler to activate. Only this high heat initiates the sprinkler to flow water (neither smoke nor a smoke alarm can activate a fire sprinkler). And only the sprinkler closest to the fire will operate, flowing water directly on the flames in the area of the fire's origin. This quick action controls or extinguishes the flames (often before the fire department arrives).
Each Sprinkler Works Individually
Unlike interconnected smoke alarms (if one signals, they all signal), fire sprinklers activate independently. In a survey of national home fires, 90% of the time a single sprinkler was sufficient to control the fire. Despite the fictional special effects commonly seen in action movies, fire sprinklers do not spray water all at once. They do not operate in response to smoke, burned toast, cooking vapors, steam, an activating smoke alarm, or anything other than high heat.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the average water output of a residential fire sprinkler is between 13 to 15 gallons per minute, while the average flow from a fire hose is 95 to 200 gallons per minute, under high pressure. Obviously, the activation of a fire sprinkler will create far less water damage.