Letter: Don't Blame Sprinkler Systems
To the Editor:
I was saddened to read the Valley News story about water damage from fire sprinkler systems to the Fairlee Town Hall (Jan. 8) and Newport’s Richards School (Jan. 29). The damage was extensive, no doubt about it. But a system’s components are too often blamed for such malfunctions, particularly when there was no fire or people present to stop the flow.
From the reporters’ accounts, it would seem that an extended period of cold weather was the apparent culprit in each case, not negligence or failure to maintain the systems. As both the Town Hall and school are older structures, the inherent problems of extended cold temperatures seeping through exterior walls plus insulation that’s not up to snuff can spell trouble. A photo of Fairlee’s Town Hall suggested that the side-wall sprinkler that operated was on an exterior wall and supplied by piping in the concealed space between the exterior and interior walls. At the Newport school, it seemed the supply piping was above the ceiling in unoccupied, unheated space.
Over the years, intermittent freezing and thawing that went undetected probably weakened some connections in the piping and release valves under compression in sprinklers to the point that something had to give. But it was not the fault of the systems. Rather it was probably a miscalculation when both systems were installed about the adequacy of the protection against freezing.
It’s unfortunate that many readers of stories involving sprinkler leakage come away with the erroneous thought that sprinkler system inadequacies were somehow responsible. Over the years, that sort of thinking has undermined the reputation of sprinklers as efficient and reliable fire-suppression devices. Sprinkler systems have been around for more than a century and the countless thousands of lives they’ve saved and property damage they have avoided attest to their effectiveness. But misconceptions about their worth has colored efforts to promote sprinklers, either through education or legislation, as sensible additions to new single-family residential construction.
Sprinkler technology has advanced to the point where residential systems are innocuous and relatively inexpensive. But resistance to their installation still looms large.
That’s what is really sad.