The fire sprinkler is a standard item in most office buildings, hotels, and other public places. However, what is a fire sprinkler? How do they work? What are the different types of commercial systems and what types of sprinklers are available for residential use? Moreover, what about those hand-held fire extinguishers?


It can seem overwhelming when learning about why it is important to have a sprinkler system on your property, in addition to handheld extinguishers, because there are many types of commercial and residential fire sprinklers systems out there. You will find traditional overhead sprinklers, as well as other fire suppression systems, for both home and commercial use.


Here we will look at what causes a fire, what happens when you remove one leg of the Fire Triangle, commonly installed fire suppression systems as well as what causes a fire sprinkler to activate. We will also look at the various agencies that work with fire control systems, and the inspections of installed fire control systems.


How Fire Functions

So, what causes a fire? A fire occurs when the rapid oxidation of a material occurs. Oxidation occurs when oxygen is introduced to the material at high temperatures on a molecular level. When the oxygen bonds to the material are catching on fire after the heat are applied, this is known as the ignition point.


The Fire Triangle is commonly referred to as is a formula for starting a fire. The triangle consists of the following elements: Heat, Oxygen, and Fuel. When these three conditions are met, a fire occurs. When you take away one of the legs of the triangle, the fire will cease to operate and the easiest one to take away is the heat. The second easiest to remove is oxygen. The material is often the hardest leg to remove to extinguish a fire. The material is what we use to class fire extinguisher systems. The classes are measured alphabetically as A, dry materials like paper and wood, B, liquid and gasses like gasoline, C, electrical outlets and computer equipment, and D, metals like magnesium and cesium.


We now know the Fire Triangle is the formula for making a fire. We are aware removing one of the legs is how to extinguish a fire. The easiest one to remove is heat. Enter the commercial fire sprinkler.


How Fire Sprinklers Work

We often see the sprinkler heads in public places or offices where we work. However, how do they work? Do they all go off at once like in the movies? Well, not quite. They are individual heads on a parallel water circuit designed to extinguish fires in localized areas as a fire occurs. They are heat activated not smoke or fire alarm handle activated. As the fire begins to heat the surrounding area and the flames reach higher, they melt a solder holding a cap on the sprinkler water outlet. The solder consists of low melting metals such as lead and bismuth. Once the metal has melted the water pressure unseats the cap, and voila, water sprays the surrounding area and cools the material being burned to below the ignition point and out goes the fire.


Inexpensive to install and operate this is by far the most popular system installed in commercial buildings. Heat can also be removed using a handheld extinguishers of various agents used, such as CO2 and water, to extinguish a fire based on the class of material burning.


How Fire Extinguishers Work

Removing the oxygen is how most hand-held extinguishers operate. They stop the chemical reaction of the Fire Triangle. Dry chemical and Halon gas are the most popular types of oxygen removal extinguishers. Dry chemical expels a serious of chemicals that form a powder that covers the material blocking the oxidization, which is a messy endeavor and often requires a clean-up. Dry chemical is not recommended for confined spaces or where you do not want items covered in the chemical powder. Halon is a gas designed to remove the oxygen surrounding a fire, which, in turn, will reduce the heat by stopping the material from absorbing more oxygen and allowing the fire to continue burning. This type of extinguishing is popular in confined areas such as aircraft engine bays and commercial vehicles where the quick extinguishing of fire is essential.


Modern Fire Suppression


Today’s fire sprinkler systems and hand-held extinguishers are of an older design that just can’t be beaten. In the 1870s Henry S. Parmelee of New Haven CT had a piano company he wanted to protect from fire and was credited both as the first building in America to be equipped with an automatic fire suppression system and the automatic sprinkler head. These systems still require maintenance and now are being updated with various sensors, control panels, and companies to maintain and install these vital fire safety systems. Excellent record keeping of fire control systems is vital to any business operating with a fire suppression system installed, ensuring manufacture maintenance interval tasks are met and will keep your system in working order.


Fire safety is an important aspect of everyday business and residential life. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) sets standards and code requirements for fire suppression equipment and building layout for fire emergencies. Fire suppression systems – from sprinklers to handheld extinguishers – all require training, record keeping, and maintenance. Knowing your surroundings for fire escape drills, the location of equipment and operation of equipment are all essential for safety in the workplace and home. The operation of fire suppression systems is a finely tuned machine that will protect your assets and limit the damage caused by fires. These systems will last a long time with the proper care and attention to manufacturing recommendations.