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Thomas:

Don't disagree that fire sprinklers can have negative effects.  But, then
the WHOLE purpose of fire sprinklers are for life safety purposed (at
least from my perspective).  The code requirements for fire protection are
to my understanding for the same purpose...life safety.  To my knowledge,
fire protection provisions in building codes are not meant to protect my
stuff from damage, but rather allow me enough time to escape before
meeting an undesireable early demise.

In this regard, it would be like someone complaining that the steel moment
frames that you or I designed per code did not prevent the building from
sustaining significant non-structural or even structural damage due to an
earthquake, yet the building performed well enough and stayed standing
long enough that everyone got out alive.

Now, it is pretty obvious to me that steps can be taken above and beyond
the code requirements to minimize damage to property...in both fire
protection _AND_ structural design.  Can you say that the sprinkler system
in your townhouse could not have been designed differently such that at a
minimum the system was designed to be indepentent for each of the four
townhouses if not zones within each townhouse _AND_ still meet the minimum
code requirements?  I am not fire protection system expert, but I would
have to say that it is entirely likely that the sprinkler system in your
townhouse could have been designed to isolate zones to prevent damage in
areas where the fire might not be.  But, then that costs more money to
achieve.  Is it the "fault" of the sprinkler system that it was deployed
in such an indesciminate way?  Nope.  It is an inanimate object that will
do what we design it to do.

As to fire fighters being more descriminate, definitely true.  But, then
they can also cause damage (other than due to water) in their effort to
put out or contain a fire.  This can include things like breaking windows.
Does a sprinkler system break windows as part of its effort to deal with
the fire?  Is it "bad" for fire fighters to do so?  Nope.  Just part of
how they achieve their results.

The point is that fire sprinklers are a tool to fight fires with, just
like fire fighters (sorry to put is such an insensative way...fire fighter
are DEFINITELY much more that just tools), fire seperation walls, spray-on
fire proofing, etc.  All have strengths and weaknesses that must be
assessed and accounted for in designing the overall design of the fire
protection system/scheme.  As a case in point, the truth (at least as I
understand it) is that in skyscrappers/highrises, fire sprinklers are
likely the MOST important tool in dealing with fires as things like CMU
block wall and concrete walls for fire seperation can be impractical due
to weight issues and you just cannot physically get enough firefighters
and water for them to use within striking distance in such buildings.

Regards,

Scott
Ypsilanti, MI

On Wed, 10 Sep 2003 THunt(--nospam--at)absconsulting.com wrote:

> Scott,
>
> You are right that both sprinklers and firefighters use water but the
> firefighters can be much more discriminative.  If you have a large
> building and only a fire in one small location the firefighters will only
> use water on that one section and will stop when they think it is under
> control.  However, depending on the sprinkler system, they may all go off
> watering the whole floor or building and run until someone finds the valve
> and shuts them off.
>
> I remember this on a personal level when I bought a new three story
> townhouse a few years ago.  It had sprinklers everywhere; in the attic,
> the garage, almost every closet, etc.  The buildings were actually
> connected fourplexes.  During the final walk through after construction
> the customer care representative went out of his way to show us an
> emergency shut off value for the fire sprinkler system.  I then asked why
> I would ever want to turn off the sprinkler system.  One of his
> explanations was that if my neighbor happened to have a small fire in his
> garage and set off the sprinkler, ALL the sprinklers in the four units
> would go off and would continue to run until the fire department arrived
> and turned them off.
>
> I am not at all against fire sprinklers because they can certainly save
> lives but I have heard that they can cause much more total damage that
> when just fire trucks and firefighters are used.  Obviously if the entire
> building is in flames nothing will be salvageable.
>
> Thomas Hunt, S.E.
> ABS Consulting
>


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