Using Sprinkler Saves for Positive Code Changes

Fire sprinkler activations, known as “sprinkler saves” reported in the media, through local code officials, and through websites like www.sprinklersaves.com are extremely beneficial for advocacy and code writing work. Sprinkler saves show how successful modern building and fire codes operate and protect the built environment. In short, the sprinkler saves show the effectiveness of modern and updated codes.

It is our duty to record and remind the public, code officials, fire chiefs, and policy makers that fire sprinklers are keeping their citizens safe all day, every day. There are numerous cases where national, state and local advocates have used past sprinkler saves to justify an ordinance or a code change. There are two instances below when the sharing of this data with the ICC voting membership made positive effects in the latest model codes.

A-2 Retrofit in the 2018 IFC

During the Public Comment Hearings, in Kansas City, MO, for the development of the 2018 IFC, the NFSA used recent A-2 sprinkler saves to advocate for retrofitting sprinklers in A-2 (nightclubs, bars, restaurants, banquet halls) occupancies (for the technical requirements of this change in the IFC, see the Mar/Apr 2018 edition of NFSM, “A-2 Retrofit in the 2018 IFC”). In a handout and during public testimony, several recent bar, nightclub and restaurant fires were highlighted and discussed.

Below are four sprinkler saves in 2016 where sprinkler systems saved almost 1,700 lives. These events made the local news online posting and sprinklers were credited in saving lives, the venue, and building. These events were highlighted during the code hearing discussion because of the diverse range of location and structure. Every building represents a broad representation of A-2 occupancies across the US, such as a small single-story bar, a nightclub on a second floor, a restaurant in a strip mall and high-density nightclub.

  • PHOENIX, AZ – During a show in a local nightclub, band members used lighter fluid to start a fire on the stage. A single sprinkler opened, and all 300 occupants safely evacuated.
  • ANAHEIM, CA – At a packed nightclub, where 600 patrons awaited the Snoop Dogg birthday bash, fire in the overhead chandeliers was controlled by sprinklers.
  • SEATTLE, WA – Over 750 occupants were safely evacuated after sprinklers thwarted an arson event shortly before midnight.
  • TROY, MI – A fire at a Korean restaurant was stopped by sprinkler system and 40 patrons evacuated.
NFPA 13R in the 2021 IBC

During the Public Comment Hearings, in Richmond, VA, for the development of the 2021 IBC/IFC, the NFSA distributed recent NFPA 13R sprinkler saves to advocate fire protection in low-rise hotel, motel and apartment properties. Low-rise structures often utilize NFPA 13R

(Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies) systems as a cost- and life-effective solution for developments. Some recent fires have had some devastating effects for residents and developments. However, it is important to note, few lost their lives where the NFPA 13R systems was installed and maintained property. This has been true to the scope since the first NFPA 13R standard in 1987 and the 1990 editions of the model codes. Below are a sample of recent fires that occurred in four story (or less) residential occupancies protected by a NFPA 13R system. The date range is important to note as it shows all the (reported) sprinkler saves in NFPA 13R systems from the spring code hearings in Columbus to the fall code hearings in Richmond.

DateCityStateComments  
October 11, 2018MorgantownWV2nd floor apartment
September 23, 2018GreenvilleSC3rd floor kitchen
September 16, 2018Westbrook ME2nd floor kitchen
September 14, 2018WacoTXDownstairs kitchen
September 10, 2018GainesvilleFLKitchen
September 5, 2018SuffolkVAKitchen
September 4, 2018ChesapeakeVA3rd floor kitchen
September 3, 2018Las VegasNVNo detailed information
September 2, 2018NewportRI3rd floor kitchen
August 28, 2018LaceyWAKitchen fire - tenant slept right through it
August 22, 2018Port RoyalSCElectronic device on couch
August 11, 2018VancouverWA1st floor kitchen
July 29, 2018SpokaneWA2nd floor
July 21, 2018CharlottesvilleVA2nd floor kitchen
July 12, 2018BridgeportCTKitchen
July 1, 2018HagerstownMD2nd floor kitchen
June 22, 2018YakimaWA3rd floor deck
June 15, 2018Prince GeorgeVA3rd floor water heater
April 20, 2018BakersfieldCA1st floor arson
April 3, 2018HamptonVA3rd floor apartment

A fire that is prevented saves time, money and lives. However, the downside of a sprinkler save is the un-newsworthiness of the event. As Dennis Grubb, former Orange County, California Fire Prevention Specialist, states in the 2004 OCFA Marble Mountain video, “Why you don’t hear about them saving lives is because it is a non-event…”. When only one or two sprinklers control a fire 94% of the time, there are thousands of fires each year that the public doesn’t know about. While countless lives are saved, the complacency of human nature can often be indifferent about life safety measures. How can you help? Report service calls where activations have occurred to your local NFSA region, chapter or to websites such as www.sprinklersaves.com.


Jeffrey M. Hugo

Jeffrey M. Hugo is the Director of Codes and Public Fire Protection for the National Fire Sprinkler Association and is a Michigan registered Building Official, Building Inspector, and Plan Reviewer since 1995. He represents the fire sprinkler industry primarily in the development of building, fire, existing and residential codes through serving on several NFPA technical and ICC committees. Jeff contributes in research, informal interpretations of codes, exam development, training, and regularly contributes building code related articles to publications such as NFSM and industry newsletters. Jeff is editor of the 2009, 2012, and 2015 editions of Fire Sprinkler Guide, and holds a multitude of certifications by the ICC, including the Certified Building Code Official (CBCO).