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Automatic water extinguishing systems can save residents and staff at care facilities in the event of fire

Water mist and sprinkler systems are the most effective ways of preventing fire fatalities, especially among disabled people. This was the conclusion of Tapio Stén’s report.

When a fire breaks out, care facility personnel do not have the time to carry out first extinguishing or evacuate all of the residents who are unable to escape on their own. The number of staff is simply insufficient, and it may be challenging to physically move some residents. Automatic water extinguishing systems either put out the fire or limit it to such an extent that the staff at the site or the fire department can completely extinguish it. This was the case in every single fire from 2012–2019 at care facilities or similar institutions where automatic water extinguishing systems were activated.

In each fire examined in the report the automatic water extinguishing system worked as designed, preventing life-threatening conditions.

Fires are also extremely dangerous to personnel. Automatic water extinguishing systems markedly improve the health and safety of staff during fires. No staff members were injured in any of the cases studied in the report.

Rising temperatures as well as toxic smoke and gases are the most dangerous features to humans in a fire. Extinguishing systems provide extra time for safe evacuation and support the structural integrity of buildings.

Personnel at care facilities need to know how to act

When the Fire Detection System sounds, the building’s own fire protection technology, rather than the rescue department, is the first line of defence. The systems report the danger at the earliest possible stage, provide more time to act during the first critical minutes and put a stop to the threatening situation as soon as possible.

People in buildings must be able to act independently. First extinguishing skills and regular exercises are essential. Moreover, personnel should be familiar with the building’s fire protection technology. In addition, on top of technical systems, all sites should have a fire response plan. What is more, just having a plan is not enough – the staff must also be familiar with it.

– Fire safety is an entirety in which, in addition to technical systems, the aim is to support the possibilities of action people, especially the staff at the site, have. Fire protection is all about anticipation in which human action cannot be ignored. A well-trained staff and an appropriate safety culture play key roles, says Lauri Lehto, Safety and Security Advisor at the Finnish National Rescue Association.

Myths persist about the equipment

While fire protection systems are primarily intended to save lives, they also protect property and secure business continuity.

Fires are always dangerous. It is everyone’s desire to detect and extinguish a fire as early as possible so as to limit losses as much as possible. Without automatic extinguishing systems fire losses can result in temporary or even permanent closures.

Extinguishing systems are often criticised for water damage, and they are feared to cause more damage from water than from the fire itself.

When fire breaks out the extinguishing system’s nozzles open one at a time when the direct influence of the fire reaches the nozzle. In most fires only one nozzle is activated, which is sufficient to extinguish or at least limit the fire.

The water damage caused by extinguishing systems is probably smaller than what the fire and smoke damage would be of a freely spreading fire. It is also important to keep in mind that extinguishing systems only use a fraction of the amount of water that the fire department would have to use to put out fires at unprotected sites.

Reliability of extinguishing systems demonstrated by countless studies

This report corroborates the results of previous studies. Automatic extinguishing systems have proved to be extremely reliable in fires.

Extinguishing systems are very reliable, and they rarely malfunction. According to American statistics (FM Global) the leak risk caused by equipment failure amounts to one case per 16 million nozzles each year. Furthermore, the risk of water damage caused by the system itself is exceedingly small. Also, when the system activates, all of the nozzles do not simultaneously discharge water. Rather, only the nozzles whose thermal elements have broken due to high temperature will be activated.

In the USA the National Fire Protection Association’s study (NFPA, U.S. Experience with Sprinklers, 2017) came to the conclusion that the best results in fire loss limitation were achieved at sites having an automatic extinguishing system and a Fire Detection System Nordic studies also support this view. According to a Master’s thesis (Nieminen, 2018) presented at Tampere University, extinguishing systems were 98.1 per cent reliable. The study compared building fire statistics from 1996–2016. In a report (Markus Melin, 2018) of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap), extinguishing systems were found to be more than 99 per cent reliable.

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