The Sprinkler Effect
One of the Grand Trustees’ core charges is chapter house fire safety. While there are many relatively simple and inexpensive fire safety protocols that all house should have (like fire extinguishers, lighted EXIT signs, fire rated doors, etc.), the single best way to control a fire is a fire sprinkler system which is designed to automatically discharge water when the heat of a fire has been detected. So, if a fire breaks out in one area of the building, the system will put it out quickly before it spreads, limiting property damage, personal injury and loss of life.
A bit of history...Henry Parmelee created the first fire sprinkler system in 1864 to protect his piano factory. Parmelee patented his idea and had great success with it in the U.S. He then traveled to Europe to demonstrate his invention but did not get the reception he hoped for. Most simply could not afford the cost.
Parmelee turned his efforts to educating the insurance industry by demonstrating how the system would reduce claims. With reduced claims, the insurance companies could offer reduced premiums which would be an inducement for the insureds to install fire sprinkler systems.
Parmelee was able to promote his invention to the Textile Manufacturers' Association which had a policy of encouraging risk improvement and the use of the most up-to-date apparatus for extinguishing fires. Even so, by 1883 only about 10 factories were protected by the Parmelee sprinkler.
Fredrick Grinnell designed a newer and better system known as the Grinnell sprinkler. He increased effectiveness by removing the fusible joint from all contact with the water. And by seating a valve in the center of a flexible diaphragm, the valve seat was forced against the valve by the water pressure, producing a self-closing action. The greater the water pressure, the tighter the valve. Grinnell got a patent and marketed it in Europe where it was a much bigger success than the Parmelee version. Eventually, the Parmelee system was withdrawn, which left an open path for Grinnell and his invention.
Residential fire sprinklers work automatically and operate at a predetermined temperature using either a fusible element which melts or a glass bulb containing liquid which breaks. When activated, a plug is pushed out by water pressure and the water stream impacts a deflector which produces a spray pattern. Ceiling sprinkler heads are designed to direct spray downwards while spray nozzles provide spray in various directions and patterns.
One of the biggest misconceptions propagated by Hollywood is that when a fire sprinkler system is activated, all the heads fire at once all over the building causing massive water damage. In fact, residential systems are designed to only activate and suppress the fire where it actually is. And while there is bound to be some water damage, it pales in comparison to the damage done by a fully deployed fire hose dragged into a burning building by the fire department.
Does your chapter house have a fire sprinkler system? If not, it is only a matter of time before the local fire marshall makes it a requirement. Why not put one on your priority list of fire safety upgrades.