Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 19

Daniel 3 v 19 – 25

Come on Light my Fire

In 1990 I became Head of Building Control at Nottingham City Council, a post I held for twenty years. I led a team who were responsible for all matters relating to Building Regulations and associated legislation across the City.

The regulations were complex and wide reaching covering all aspects of building design and construction in all types of buildings be it a garage in the back garden to a multi storey office block. The regulations were divided into various sections each section dealing with a particular aspect of construction and design and one section dealt with Fire Precautions and Means of Escape. Obviously with issues relating to fire there had to be close liaison with the Fire Service which resulted in regular meetings with the Fire Officer in order to maintain a coordinated approach to fire safety.

It was at one such meeting in 1999 when I was discussing fire safety in domestic dwellings with the Fire Officer at Bestwood Lodge Fire HQ on the outskirts of Nottingham. There was concern over an increase in incidents in dwellings on a national scale and we were looking for possible solutions that could be adopted to address the problem. One solution that was suggested was the installation of domestic sprinkler systems.

Sprinklers are small water jets that automatically activate when fire is detected and although they are widely used in industrial buildings were not common in dwellings.

The discussion revolved around how we could determine the effectiveness of domestic sprinklers and the answer was to set fire to someone’s house but that would only give us half the answer. What we should really do was to set fire to two people’s houses one with sprinklers and one without, and assess the difference. There was one flaw in our plan and that was we could not identify two house owners that would be willing to have their houses burnt to the ground, and as no one in the room would volunteer, (no commitment) the conversation drew to a close.

It was a couple of months later that I received a telephone call from the Fire Officer, to say that someone had offered two houses that could be tested by setting them alight. There was a pair of identical houses in a row of terrace properties that were to be demolished for redevelopment. A specialist company had volunteered to set one house up with a sprinkler system and the other house would be left without a system. The two could then be compared.

This was an opportunity not to be missed so the financial aspects were all agreed and the test was scheduled early January 2000.

Each house was furnished identically to give as far possible an accurate comparison, and fire appliances and crews were in attendance to use the exercise as an added opportunity for training purposes.

At the appointed time we all gathered at a safe distance and watched a fire fighter advance towards the building with a box of matches and a fire lighter, (actually it was all done by an electrical igniter but it adds to the drama) , and the building s were set alight.

I had decided to take with me a stop watch and a new invention called a digital camera, to record the event.

In a matter of seconds the fire developed and in a matter of a minute the fire had spread throughout the ground floor. It took just three minutes for the fire to reach the bedrooms and within five minutes the fire was emerging from the roof and the entire house was an inferno.

In the sprinklered house the fire was extinguished almost immediately and never actually got a hold on the ground floor. Fire damage was minimal and water damage was restricted to the area around the source of the fire.

It was reasonable to assume from the test that lives would probably have been lost in the unsprinklered house but would probably have been saved in the sprinklered house.

I submitted a paper on the findings of the test to our representative Institute at the time which was published, and I also attended a meeting with the Fire Officer at the Department of the Environment in London to present our conclusions but nothing came from our discussions. The regulations were amended some time later to include the provision of smoke detectors but there was no further mention of sprinklers.

In the Bible we can read in Daniel where three people were saved from an inferno by God due to their faith and righteousness. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were righteous devout people living during the rule of the tyrannical King Nebuchadnezzar. They refused to abide by his order to bow down and worship false gods and forsake their beliefs in the almighty God. As a result the three men were condemned to death by being thrown into a fiery furnace, but not any old furnace, this one was built up to be seven times hotter than any other furnace, so hot that the guards who opened the furnace doors were burnt up by the heat.

Not only were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego saved from the inferno, but not one hair on their heads was singed and their cloths had no smell of smoke.

Their faith and the apparition that he saw in the furnace changed the heart of Nebuchadnezzar and his belief in the one Supreme God.

Many of my reflections relating to my days of employment have to have a disclaimer that the legislation may have changed in the ten years since I retired but I am not aware of domestic sprinklers being introduced into new dwellings.

I have to admit it was very exciting to be involved in that experiment and I did keep the paper to the institute just as a reminder.  

Derek T.

Domestic Sprinkler Systems Article Domestic Sprinkler Systems Article