Fire Sprinklers vs. Smoke Alarms:
Which Provides Better Fire Protection?

Fire alarms are by far the more common means of fire protection in residences. But do they provide all the fire protection and safetyyou need? Here’s a look at which method of fire protection does a better job of saving lives and property.

Fire Alarms: The Pros and Cons

Fire alarms are cheap and easy to install. It’s not difficult to install a fire alarm. They require no specially-trained contractors or extensive construction, and they are cheap enough to fit into anyone’s budget. This is probably why fire alarms are found in millions of homes throughout the world.

Fire alarms don’t always work as they should. The drawback with fire alarms is that they don’t always work perfectly. They run on batteries that can expire—you’ll have to remember to change them when needed, and not everybody does. They also malfunction surprisingly often; studies show about 14% of fire alarms don’t activate as they should when a fire starts in their vicinity. If you don’t remember to check your fire alarm periodically, you could be left unprotected when a fire starts in your home.

Fire alarms provide no protection. Speaking of being left unprotected—fire alarms do nothing to shield you from a fire. All they can do is warn; you have to get out of the burning building yourself. That’s fine if you’re physically capable of that. Young children, the elderly and infirm are often particularly vulnerable to fire because they can’t get out of buildings in time. But even if you’re fit, healthy and old enough to get out of the house yourself, it could take minutes to wake up, realize what’s happening, and get out—and you may have only seconds.

Fire Sprinklers: The Pros and Cons

Fire sprinklers are more expensive than fire alarms. Fire sprinklers are more involved to install than fire alarms—you do have to hire specially qualified contractors to install and service the systems. But fire sprinklers aren’t as costly to install as, say, a luxury bathroom—they typically cost as much per square metre as new carpet.

Fire sprinklers are highly dependable. It’s extremely rare for fire sprinklers to activate by mistake, or to fail to activate when needed. Fire sprinklers have a failure rate of approximately one in 500,000 due to manufacturers’ defects—much better than what you’d find with fire alarms. They also can’t be set off by pranksters holding lighters or matches under the sprinkler heads, unlike portrayals in movies and on TV.

Fire sprinklers provide active fire protection. Fire sprinklers are the only method of fire protection that actually work to protect you from fire without need for manual operation. Fire sprinklers activate automatically as soon as a fire starts, cutting off the fire’s heat supply and in most cases extinguishing it before it gets out of control. In a great majority of cases, it only takes a single sprinkler head to extinguish a fire.

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Four Non-Negotiable Fire Safety Measures You Need in Your Home

One in five people will experience a home fire at some point in their lives. It’s crucial to make sure you’re prepared to handle small fires on your own—and get out of your house safely if the fire is too big. Here are a few fire safety measures no home should be without.

Working smoke detectors. You should have a smoke detector on every floor of the house, and it’s crucial to make sure the batteries are charged. There should be a smoke alarm in your kitchen, near fireplaces or wood stoves, and near bedrooms to assure you’ll hear the alarm when it goes off. Replace your batteries once a year, and check the alarm twice a year to make sure it’s working. Smoke alarms should be replaced entirely every ten years or so.

Fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers are also a critical part of your fire safety measures. Keep a multi-purpose fire extinguisher handy anywhere with a high risk of fire—near wood stoves or fireplaces, in the kitchen and laundry room as well as in the garage or workshop if you have one. In general, a small, easily portable fire extinguisher is best for the kitchen, where you might be dealing with small stove or grease fires; larger fire extinguishers are better suited to garages, laundry rooms and workshops. A large all-purpose fire extinguisher should be kept in an easily-accessible central location in the home as well. It’s good to have several, as fire may block your access if you have only one.

Fire escape ladders. In case of fire, the hallways outside second storey bedrooms might be blocked—as may staircases or even the entire first floor. That’s why it’s crucial to have a second way out for second-storey bedrooms. Get a foldable or rope ladder for each room, and make sure that each room’s occupants know how to use it. For children too small to set up a ladder, make sure the nearest older child or an adult is assigned to help.

A fire escape plan. Make sure everyone in your family knows how to get out of the house in case of a fire. Each person in your family should have several routes out of the house memorized, and the family should agree to a specific place to meet once you all get out of the house—such as the end of your driveway or a tree, bush or other landmark a safe distance away from your home. If there are infants or small children in the home, assign one person in the family the task of helping them escape. Practice your fire escape plan regularly in all seasons so that family members could follow it even in the middle of the night. Make sure everyone in the family knows never to pause to bring anything out of the house—or to go back inside.

Fire Safety Tips: How to Stop
Fires Before They Happen

The surest way to survive a fire is to prevent one from happening in the first place. There are more fire hazards in the home than most people realize—yet many people don’t think a home fire will happen to them, and aren’t prepared to deal with one when it occurs. Here are a few fire safety tips to make sure that never happens to you—by preventing common causes of home fires.

Never leave candles unattended. Candles can be a major fire hazard—especially when they’re left unattended while lit. You should avoid leaving candles near drapes or window curtains, bed covers, or anything else flammable—but you should also be aware that occasionally candles will come with holders that are not well suited to protect from fire, and even a candle far from flammable cloth or paper might cause its holder to heat up enough to burn a wooden table if left to burn low.

Give space heaters some room. Space heaters are another common cause of house fires. When using a portable space heater, give it at least one metre of space on all size—in particular, keep it away from furniture, cloth curtains and clothing, sheets and blankets, bedding, or anything else flammable. Don’t leave heaters on unattended, and don’t leave pets or young children unsupervised in a room with a space heater.

Keep an eye on your electrical appliances. Electrical fires are not uncommon in the home, and it’s more common than you’d think for electrical appliances to malfunction. It’s important to check your electrical cords regularly for cracks or fraying. Never overload a power strip by plugging too many high-electricity appliances into a single strip, and avoid running extension cords under rugs where foot traffic could weaken them. In addition, watch your appliances for electrical malfunctions. If an appliance begins to smell strange or starts to smoke, unplug it and repair or replace it.

Be careful in the kitchen. This is one of the most important fire safety tips you’ll need to keep safe from fire. The kitchen is generally considered the most likely place for a home fire to start. To prevent fires, never turn your burner on if there are any flammable materials nearby, and never leave the kitchen while something is cooking on the stove. Grease fires can happen in the kitchen, and can be smothered with a pot lid—never use water on a grease fire, as it will just spread the flames.

Consider installing a fire sprinkler system. Fire sprinkler systems typically cost as much to install as new carpeting, and they’re far more valuable—they can save lives. Fire sprinklers activate the moment a sprinkler head senses the heat from a fire, and a large majority of home fires can be controlled by a single sprinkler head. Not a single fire-related death has ever been reported in homes with fire sprinkler systems installed.

Home fires can happen to anyone—and with the amount of common household fire hazards, it’s a surprise they don’t happen more often. Don’t rely on luck to ensure you never experience a house fire. Rely on these fire safety tips, and you’re much more likely to prevent fires before they happen.

Why Fire Sprinklers are a
Firefighter’s Best Friend

Fire sprinklers make a firefighter’s job easier in a number of ways—by saving lives, extinguishing fires, and protecting property. Here are just a few reasons why fire sprinklers are a fire fighter’s favorite form of backup.

They actively protect people. Having fire sprinklers in your home is like having a fire fighter on duty in each room, twenty-four hours a day. Unlike fire alarms, which simply warn you of a fire, fire sprinklers activate immediately to suppress fires and weight down deadly smoke particles—making the air safer for residents to breathe, and reducing deaths and injuries from smoke inhalation.

They activate on their own. Unlike other methods of fire protection—like fire extinguishers and fire alarms—fire extinguishers activate automatically to suppress fires. There’s nothing you have to do but get out of the house in safety. Fire extinguishers, by contrast, work quite well if you operate the extinguisher correctly and if you get to it in time.

They suppress fires before they grow. If you’re stuck in your home with a fast-moving fire, you may be unable to escape in time. Fires grow quickly—they can blaze out of control in seconds—and no matter how fast your fire brigade’s response time is, they often arrive too late to save homes and even people from fire. In addition, it can often take several minutes to wake up when the smoke alarm goes off, figure out what’s going on, and get out of the house—minutes you may not have.

Fire sprinklers activate the moment enough heat is released by a fire to break the seal on the sprinkler head—nearly instantaneously to the naked eye. Once the seal is broken, the fire sprinkler system releases water in droplet sizes designed to penetrate to the fire’s core—so it’s extinguished almost completely in moments. The vast majority of home fires are controlled by a single sprinkler head, leaving not much work for fire fighters to do.

They’re the most dependable fire protection you can buy. Fire alarms aren’t as dependable as you’d think. Approximately 14% of fire alarms will malfunction even if their batteries are charged—which is why it’s so important to check and be sure your fire alarm is still working on a regular basis. By contrast, fire alarms are much more dependable. It’s estimated that fire sprinkler systems’ fail rate due to manufacturing defects is approximately one in 500,000—making fire sprinklers much more dependable than fire alarms. In general, it’s very unlikely that fire sprinklers will go off by accident or fail to go off when needed.

Fire sprinklers provide invaluable help to firefighters. By activating almost the moment a fire starts, fire sprinklers save lives, keep buildings and belongings safe, and control fires before they can cause serious damage. Install fire sprinklers in your home, and you’re very unlikely to experience a serious home fire. Fire sprinklers do much of the work of suppressing fires before they grow—making them an ideal partner for fire fighters. It’s no wonder fire sprinklers are a firefighter’s best friend.

Types of Fire Suppression Methods

Fire needs three things to burn: heat, fuel, and oxygen. If you take away any one of those three things, the fire will go out. The fuel for a fire can be liquid, solid or gas, and the type of fuel determines the type of fire suppression method you’ll use. Here are a few methods of fire suppression you can use—with caution—if you’re faced with a fire at home.

Fire extinguishers. Fire burns well in an atmosphere composed of at least 20% oxygen. Fire extinguishers distribute a coating of foam over a fire, which works to smother it by cutting off its oxygen supply. When operating a handheld fire extinguisher, you’ll need to use the P.A.S.S. method: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. First, pull the pin to activate the fire extinguisher. Second, aim at the fire and press down on the operating lever. Then coat the base of the fire with the foam, distributing it in a sweeping motion.

Fire sprinkler systems. Fire extinguishers remove oxygen from a fire; water removes heat. Water works as a fire suppression agent because it lowers the temperature of a fire to the point where it can’t sustain itself.

Fire sprinkler systems activate on their own, without any need for manual operation. Fire sprinklers consist of several key components: a pipe connected to a water source, a sprinkler head with a spinning component that distributes the water evenly in specifically-sized droplets, and a heat-sensitive seal connecting the sprinkler head to the pipe.

When a fire starts to burn, it releases considerable heat. When the heat-sensitive seal senses the heat, it breaks off or opens, connecting the sprinkler head and the water source. Water flows into the sprinkler head, where it’s sprayed in a specific pattern with droplets designed to fall all the way into the centre of the fire without evaporating first. The size of the droplets and the distribution pattern depend on the type of fire sprinkler system you have—commercial fire sprinkler systems have different specifications than residential fire sprinklers.

Fire blankets. In a pitch, you can extinguish a small fire by throwing a blanket over it, patting it out or rolling the person or object on fire in a blanket. This is risky, though, as you risk burning yourself and the blanket itself might catch fire. To prevent this, you can buy blankets designed to extinguish fires.

These blankets are made of fire resistant materials, and they work by smothering the fire and cutting off its oxygen supply. To use one correctly, you should wrap your hands in the top of the blanket to protect them from the flames as you place the blanket over the flames, making sure to cover the entire fire. Fire blankets are often used only for small house fires, although some industrial-strength fire blankets are sometimes used in laboratories to deal with fires in electrical equipment. These are often made of wool treated with a flame-resistant material.

Being aware of these fire suppression methods could make the difference between a small flare-up and a dangerous fire. The safest method by far is the fire sprinkler system; with these systems, your only duty is to get out of the house safely. Use caution with the other methods—but be aware of them. You never know when your knowledge of common fire suppression methods might save your life.


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