Following the tragic Grenfell fire, there have been numerous questions surrounding the retrospective installation of sprinkler systems to tower blocks. Should sprinklers be installed to all tower blocks? Are they cost effective?
Carol Burton, Senior Project Manager at Basildon Borough Council would certainly agree. Following a number of arson related incidents, the Council worked closely with Essex County Fire and Rescue Service to agree the most appropriate way forward to minimise the spread of fire to its dwellings.
In January 2016, following a competitive tender process, Basildon Borough Council installed sprinkler systems across the 84 flats at Brooke House – a Grade II Listed tower block in the centre of Basildon. Works were completed within 26 weeks, with a resident satisfaction rate of 100%.
Various options regarding the type of suppression system were investigated to identify the most effective for the type of fires that had occurred within and around Council premises, and provide the best value for money. The system installed was considered the most appropriate for the size of building, the cost of creating and installing water tank storage, the water pressure in the area, available technology at the time, and the fact that at the time of original design there was still no published British Standard for water mist systems – only a draft document.
Since their installation there have been no false activations or complaints regarding water damage – both common concerns regarding sprinkler systems. Basildon Borough Council now also plan to install sprinklers at the Felmores Estate, with work beginning by early 2018.
The main challenges faced by the Council were dispelling the common myths regarding sprinkler systems to gain resident support. Through joint resident meetings with Essex County Fire and Rescue, the Council were able to dispel a number of myths, including:
MYTH: The sprinklers will be activated by smoke and cause unnecessary water damage.
FACT: Sprinklers are not activated by smoke, but by a predetermined temperature, usually around 73 degrees. The chances of sprinklers malfunctioning are 1 in 16 million; the odds of winning the lottery are greater!
MYTH: When a fire is detected, every sprinkler in the building will activate.
FACT: As sprinklers are triggered by high temperatures, they will only be activated in the areas affected by fire.
MYTH: Sprinklers will ruin the appearance of my home.
FACT: Concealed sprinklers are fitted within the ceiling and covered by a flat plate. Most people don’t notice them, as shown in the images below.