Fire safety specialists can often be seen scratching their heads with furrowed brows in frustration and disbelief that sprinklers and other basic fire suppression systems are not more widely adopted in the UK than they currently are. The technology is straightforward. The intention quite fundamental in containing fire, working with compartmentation to limit the chances of early stage fire growth. The aim is to hold fire in check so that the fire and rescue service has time to finish the job of putting the fire out and mopping up.
Why suppression is not more widely adopted is something of a mystery. To reinforce the point, sprinkler advocates are quick at coming forward with reminders of the function and reliability of sprinkler systems based on statistical data, in the main from the USA. It’s all water under the bridge. But several major fires where the building was substantially destroyed have inevitably brought sprinklers back into the headlines.
Up-to-date information points to a high level of sprinkler reliability. A review of data made available suggests 95% operation where sprinklers are present combined with 99% effectiveness, which gives a bottom line overall operational reliability of 94%. Of course, failures are not unknown. It’s wise not to think sprinklers are infallible. That’s why, just like all safety systems, there needs to be back-up should events turn out in a way that was not originally assumed. Fire is notoriously unpredictable. That needs to be reflected in the use of integrated fire safety systems using suppression with effective fire separation barriers.
Of course, hot glass does not like cold water. That has to be a major factor given that modern buildings are so extensively founded on internal transparency and openness using glazing. Standard glass products are notoriously susceptible to thermal stress shock fracture. Failure under even quite mild stresses is likely.
But there is an answer. Fire-resistant ceramic glass is available here in the UK. It is specifically designed in its composition to be immune to thermal stress, with an ability to stay in one piece, untouched, even when covered from top to bottom and side to side with cold water. In testing FireLite has successfully shown resilience when sprayed with water after even 4-hour exposure in a fire-resistance test furnace. Ceramic glass is well known for its resilience to the USA firefighter hosestream test, under the impact of a high pressure full-on cold water stream over the hot exposed surface. Resilience against thermal stress shock is a remarkable property of ceramic glass. And that’s very useful in fire combined with water when confidence and assurance of fire safety – reducing risk to the lowest possible level – is a key requirement.