History of Fire Sprinklers

A Quick History of Fire Sprinkler Systems

Modern fire sprinkler systems date back to 1812, first developed. Architect William Congreve installed the first one in London at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. A fire was caused by pierced pipes that led to a large container of water that was released from the system if a fire broke out. Philip Pratt invented the first automatic sprinkler system in the 1870s. Henry Parmalee and Frederick Grinnell improved the automatic fire sprinklers during the 1890s and later perfected them.

Today, fire sprinkler systems are found in nearly all buildings, even if they were initially used to protect commercial buildings. Most recently, residential buildings have started installing sprinkler systems. Fire sprinkler systems must be installed in all buildings throughout the US and Canada by local codes. 

The Use and Operation of a Fire Sprinkler

Despite what you might expect, fire sprinkler systems were designed to contain fires, not to extinguish them. Fire causes a heat-sensitive glass bulb or metal link to break in the fire sprinkler head above the fire due to the increased heat from the flames. The water from the sprinkler head suppresses the fire once the bulb or link is broken, allowing the authorities to extinguish it until they arrive. As a result, fire sprinkler systems can often wholly extinguish a fire in many instances.

It is thought that fire sprinkler systems activate all sprinkler heads throughout the building when there is a fire. Although you have probably seen this in movies, that is not how fire sprinklers work. A real fire causes the sprinkler heads above to turn on as the heat from the fire rises. 

Fire Sprinkler with Heat-Sensitive Glass Bulb

A heat-sensitive glass bulb replaces the metal link found on most sprinkler heads in modern installations. Such bulbs contain liquids whose boiling point is precisely known. Glass bulbs break when the liquid inside them boils and bursts. There are different bulbs with different boiling points depending on the ambient temperature in a particular space. A standard office building's sprinkler head must reach 155 degrees Fahrenheit to activate and break the bulb. 

Changes to Fire Sprinkler Systems

Despite their simplicity, fire sprinkler systems have not changed much since their inception over a century ago. However, its effectiveness has improved over the years thanks to some advancements. Glass bulbs are used in modern sprinkler heads instead of metal or solder links, as stated earlier. In addition, they come in different sizes and shapes nowadays. Typically, quick response sprinklers are found in offices and schools rather than standard response sprinklers. 

A smaller glass bulb can have a faster response time in a quick response sprinkler head. In addition to dispensing water higher up the walls, quick response sprinklers lower the ceiling temperature by preventing a fire from climbing.

Pumps that deliver pressurized water to high-rise buildings are another recent addition over the past fifty years. As a consequence of integrating sprinkler systems with fire alarm panels in the past, authorities have responded faster. Fire sprinkler systems are also being improved due to the overall infrastructure of the public water system. There is much better water pressure in cities and towns than decades ago, allowing sprinkler systems to function more effectively.