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Sprinklers in Social Housing Blocks and Vandalism


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I am considering preparing a submission to the Grenfell Inquiry with the aim of pointing out that the issue vandalism (and resulting water damage from vandalism) should be considered before rushing widespread sprinklers in social housing and would appreciate your views and experiences.

Following the Grenfell disaster, there's been thousands of column inches, hours of TV and video plus pages of internet information devoted to fitting sprinklers to flats above 18m high in England & Wales, in the way our Scottish pals enjoy.

Of course, its pretty clear that a sprinkler or water mist system would have been very useful at Grenfell, as if the fire had been contained in the flat (it nearly was by the LFB), there would have been no (or less) external fire spread and only a few of us would have ever heard of the building. Surely it is now very likely that additional sprinkler requirements will be one of the outcomes of the inquiry, but of course, we will have to wait and see.

I am interested how in Scotland - and elsewhere - when sprinklers are fitted into social housing blocks that suffer vandalism, what sort of provision is made to protect heads from nefarious activities resulting in their actuation? I am aware of sprinkler heads that tuck away out of sight, but unless they are set behind thick plate steel, the yobs are bound to get in and do their worse.

I used to be stationed at North Kensington fire station before I discovered the black art of fire safety. I knew Grenfell Tower fairly well. There was smoke detection on landings behind powder coated steel mesh boxes. Many of the boxes were blackened and had their plastic coating burned off as yobs presumably held lighters against the smoke detectors in order to actuate the fire alarm system. Unfortunately for them, the heads were part of the AOV system so there were no sounders.

The landings were often used as youth clubs during poor weather. Youths would hang around bored, and damage what they could to keep amused. They'd also leave their drugs and used sharps in dry riser outlet boxes (by placing them through the U shaped gap where the boxes were cut to be placed over the riser pipe). The potential for a needlestick injury was a real problem for fire crews setting in to the riser in a hurry.

This is the level of vandalism current right now across the UK in some areas. I can see sprinklers as being a huge target for yobs and ?thousands of damage occurring regularly in some areas

I recall some work being carried out in relation to fitting sprinklers in prison cells. This of course would be an environment where sprinklers may be a target for fun/vandalism. I am not sure what the results were from that work, but perhaps this is an option???

So where sprinklers are fitted in social housing blocks, have you encountered flooding calls due to vandalism? 
Again, in these blocks, what measures are in place to prevent such damage?

Obvious a pre-action system may be useful, where air is used in the pipework and a double knock operation, but these are costly and designed to prevent accidental; activation and not malicious damage.

I would appreciate your views and experiences, especially if you have had experiences of sprinklers being set off in social housing tower blocks or worked in an area (perhaps in Scotland where sprinklers in blocks may be more prevalent) and can explain how sprinkler heads are protected from such damage


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Messy you mention the water mist, we had a recent cpd presentation on sprinklers and the different types for domestic and commercial bulb temperatures etc. I raised the mist system about how useful this was and the reply was something I never thought about. IN sprinkler tanks/pipes water is stored and can be stagnant this would be at risk of legionnaires in the water.  With a standard sprinkler system, the water droplets are large and therefore harder for the body to ingest if you walk through it. However with the mist, because the water droplets are fine particles, these can be breathed in alot easier to the lungs making the risk of contracting legionnaires much higher.  Just another angle when thinking about mist systems to take into consideration.

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I used to work in the fire detection / fire protection industry before joining wholetime. I still speak to old contacts in the industry and though I can't answer your points above with hard facts, my understanding was that the sprinkler systems would be within the flats only and have just 1 or maybe 2 heads. Town mains water pressure is sufficient in alot of cases but if not then a small booster pump can be fitted at the inlet. The use of town mains would also considerably reduce the legionnaires risk as the only standing water is then within the pipework, proper installation so the pipe is insulated and proper maintenance should reduce the risk further. 

If someone's willing to vandalise a sprinkler system within their own flat then theres not many things you can do to stop them. 

It would be interesting to hear how they are getting on with them in Scotland though. 

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