Sprinkler Fitters Local 417 Hosts Side By Side Demo

On September 18, Sprinkler Fitters Local 417 hosted a major gathering of apprentices and area sprinkler fitters at their training facility in Shoreview. In addition to an apprenticeship class underway that day, there was a continuing education training event that brought 15 journeymen to the site. Finally, a metro-wide invitation was sent out to any sprinkler fitters interested in seeing a side-by-side demonstration presented by the Minnesota Chapter of NFSA. In all, more than 130 industry personnel from more than a dozen sprinkler contractor companies joined Mayor Melvin Carter of Saint Paul, Local 417 leaders, and members of the Lake Johanna Fire Department to witness the live-fire demonstration.

This 15-minute video shows the set up and live-fire action. The first ignition starts in a sprinkler-protected living room 5 minutes and 20 seconds into the video.

Smoke alarm activation took place 15 seconds after ignition, with sprinkler activation in 25 seconds (using a single 155-degree device). In the un-sprinklered side, flashover took place in 3 minutes and 20 seconds.

These demonstrations are critical tools in educating the public, local elected officials, and firefighters. Many firefighters never get to see a fire grow from the incipient stage to flashover; they’re still in the fire station or responding when most of these fires transition from a “small” fire to a “large and deadly” one. Public and elected officials are crucial members of the audience, since they enact and enforce legislation and code changes in their local jurisdictions. Many of them also can have a big impact on statewide legislative and code adoption processes. Side-by-side demonstrations are the best way of showing people the significant benefits of fire sprinklers.

During side-by-side demonstrations, we have the chance to dispel some of the persistent misconceptions about fire sprinklers including:

  • all the heads go off at the same time…False
  • that smoke alarms and pull stations activate fire sprinklers…False
  • there’s extensive water damage…False

NFSA staff stresses the need to consider both the water damage and the fire damage when comparing sprinkler-protective properties against unprotected properties. We also remind audience members that “everything can be dried out,” but that “nothing can un-burn.”

The demonstrations also provide the opportunity to talk about the effectiveness – and the drawbacks – of relying solely on smoke alarms for protection of a home or business. Smoke alarms are prone to human error (missing batteries, improper placement, devices that are beyond their expiration date, etc.); they do nothing to prevent the growth of the fire, smoke, and deadly carbon monoxide; and they do little to assist the hearing or mobility impaired, infants and toddlers, or pets who may be attempting to escape from the burning building.

These are the important points Minnesota NFSA staff stress during these live-fire side by side demonstrations, and we have the opportunity to answer questions directed at us from the audience. In the case of the assembled Local 417 fitters, we didn’t have too many questions to address, but everyone got to see the results of their life and property saving work “up close and personal” in a way that few of us – even firefighters – get a chance to experience.