Fire fighter

The UK government wants fire safety engineers to design a low-cost sprinkler system that could be fitted in millions of ordinary homes.

The government wants fire safety engineers to design a low-cost sprinkler system that could be fitted in millions of ordinary homes.

Whitehall fire officials hope an effective system can be developed at a cheap enough price to tempt domestic users. The scheme is the brainchild of John Prescott’s ’super-ministry’, which is responsible for fire protection in England and Wales. It has just launched a feasibility study in association with the Fire Protection Association to investigate the technology and design issues such a system would present.

These are likely to include the operation of heat sensors, use of concealed sprinklers and connection to the mains water supply. Dr. David Peace, head of fire research at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, said the study aimed to kick-start development of a system that is significantly less expensive than current ’industrial-strength’ sprinklers, which are intended mainly for commercial premises.

The government estimates the cost of home installation is typically in the £3,000 to £5,000 range, far too high for all but the most affluent householder. ’Our feeling is that it should be possible to get something cheaper,’ said Peace.

Bringing the cost below £1,000 could begin to make sprinklers viable for at least a sizeable minority of homes. ’We hope the industry would take the next step of developing and marketing them,’ said Peace.

If the system was shown to be effective the government might be prepared to back it with the type of hard-hitting public safety campaigns that have convinced most people to fit smoke alarms.Government fire officials believe dozens of lives a year could be saved by such home sprinklers. ’A significant number of people who die in fires will be dead before the fire brigade is even called,’ said Peace.

The Fire Sprinkler Association (FSA), which represents sprinkler manufacturers, claimed the government need look no further than countries such as the US to see domestic sprinklers operating successfully on a wide scale.

’The UK has been rather slow to catch on in this area,’ said Sir George Pigot, the FSA’s chief executive.

Pigot said the technology needed for effective domestic systems – for example sprinkler-head sensors that can target relatively small amounts of water at a fire early on – is well established. He claimed the current cost of domestic sprinklers is already lower than those suggested by Peace, placing them more at the £2,000 level.

He said further reductions would be mainly determined by other factors, including water supply issues and ’trading off’ the need for new-builds equipped with sprinklers to spend as much on meeting other regulations.

’If building trade-offs could be put into the equation you could begin to get it down to the sort of prices they are talking about,’ said Pigot.