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Let’s explore the science of Fire Safety

How do sprinklers keep us safe?

Fire safety is a complex problem without a single answer. On this page you will learn the role that fire sprinklers have in engineering and designing fire-safe spaces.

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Reflect

Consider the spaces where you spend most of your time.
What characteristics make a space safe in the event of a fire?
Real Lab Images

Check out these real spaces that have experienced a fire. What technology impacts the outcome in each trial?

The space with less damage was equipped with fire sprinklers. Let's take a closer look at this technology. Carefully observe each sprinkler below.

What do you notice they have in common? What is different about them? Can you form some initial guesses about how they might work?

Upright

These sprinklers are designed to be installed near a ceiling, pointing upward. They are often used in spaces with high ceilings or obstacles. The position of the deflector causes water to flow upward, bouncing off the deflector. This forms an umbrella-shaped pattern that sprays downward.

Pendant

These sprinklers are designed to be installed on a ceiling, pointing downward. They are the most common sprinkler head installed globally. The deflector is designed to spray water in a dome pattern down on the burning fuel and the surrounding area.

Vertical Sidewall

These sprinklers are designed to be installed on a wall, parallel to the ceiling. They are used when piping across the ceiling is not possible. The deflector is designed to send water away from the wall in a curved shape.

A closer look

You may have noticed a liquid inside the fire sprinklers. What role do you think this liquid plays in how fire sprinklers work?

Let’s explore a virtual space and discover how sprinklers react to real-world scenarios.

Asset: Fire Sprinklers Interactive Experience
Challenge

What did you learn about how a fire sprinkler works?

Fire sprinklers are heat activated. They each individually activate at specific temperatures. Smoke or normal amounts of heat will not cause fire sprinklers to activate.

Show the answer
The Science of Fire Sprinklers

This video explains the benefits of fire sprinklers and how they are activated.

As you watch the video, look closely at how thermal energy from a fire interacts with the matter inside the bulb.

How could you model these interactions to describe how a fire sprinkler works?

Asset: The Science of Fire Sprinklers

From this page, we’ve gathered evidence that sprinklers are an effective technology to limit the impacts of fires, but did you know …

Sprinklers were only found in

10%

of the structure fires that occurred between

2015-2019

Though, when sprinklers are present, the fire is confined to the room or object of origin

95%

of the time, and there are

89%

fewer deaths!

Where have you seen fire sprinklers, and where do you think they are missing?

Check out the infographic and activity to learn more about how fire sprinklers are being used and their benefits.

From 2017-2021, Fire Sprinklers were present in only 8 percent of house fires (including apartments).

Think about it – What are the benefits of fire sprinklers? Where have you seen fire sprinklers, and where do you think they are missing?

This resource includes 2 files:

Infographic: Fire Sprinkler Use and Efficiency (pdf, 132 KB)

This infographic shares information from the National Fire Protections Association's (NFPA) report, "US Experience with Sprinklers" in a student-friendly format.

Analyze and Interpret Data Fire Sprinkler Use and Efficiency (pdf, 278 KB)

This activity provides opportunity for students to analyze and interpret the data presented in the Sprinkler Use and Efficiency infographic.

Asset: Sprinkler Use and Efficiency Data
Reflect

Imagine you’re an engineer designing a new home or building. How would you incorporate fire sprinklers into your design? What other fire safety technologies would you include?

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