Why fire sprinklers matter
Just about everyone understands the importance of battery-powered smoke detectors these days, but there's a lot more skepticism out there about the value of fire sprinklers. Perhaps that's because fire sprinklers are not as ubiquitous as smoke detectors, or perhaps it's because we usually only see sprinklers in the ceilings of office buildings and other similar structures.
Whatever the reason, people should be aware of the ways that fire sprinklers regularly save property and save lives. This is especially true in college dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses, where many students are living in close quarters. Just in the past year or two there have been a number of cases where fire sprinklers really made the difference. (We learned of each of the following incidents in the NFPA's August 2011 report by Ben Evarts.)
For instance, someone left a candle burning in a second-floor sorority house bedroom in Kansas. The flame ignited some artificial flowers that were sitting directly above the candle, starting a fire that spread throughout the room and activated a sprinkler. The $10,000 in damages paled in comparison to the $1.3 million value of the building, and there was only $6,000 in damage to the building's contents, which were valued at $640,000. There were no injuries.
In a six-story dormitory in Connecticut, a student dropped the remains of a cigarette into a trash can. The contents of the trash can ignited and burned until a fire sprinkler was activated, causing $10,000 in damage to the $50 million building. The $10 million worth of building contents sustained $20,000 in damage as a result of the fire. Again, there were no injuries.
Fire sprinklers extinguished what could have been a deadly fire at a fraternity house in Maine in 2003. A resident of the house had been studying late at night when he decided to sleep in the study room. He carelessly tossed off his shirt, which landed on a lamp and ignited after two hours. The fire spread to other combustibles in the room until it activated the fire sprinkler, which completely put out the fire. The house, worth over $100,000, sustained $20,000 in structural damage. The contents of the house, valued at $100,000, sustained $3,000 in damage.
The point of all this is that fire sprinklers work. It's quite likely that in each of these cases, the entire structure would have burned down had there not been fire sprinkler systems installed.
If you are a college student living in a fraternity, sorority, or dormitory building that is not equipped with a fire sprinkler system, you should purchase renters insurance immediately and start looking for housing that does include a sprinkler system. As the above stories reveal, however, property damage will still occur even if a sprinkler completely extinguishes a fire before the fire department arrives, so it's a good idea to have renter's insurance either way.