The “New Guy” and Numbers

By way of introduction, my name is Jon Nisja; I am one of the newest employees at the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA). My job here is fire protection and data specialist; it is a new position at NFSA.

I come to NFSA with 44 years of fire service experience; seven as a firefighter, four as a local fire marshal, and 33 with the Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division (MN SFMD). The last 16 or so years at the MN SFMD, I oversaw their fire protection, training, and data sections.

In that role, I grew to enjoy the data piece, especially when data could show effectiveness. We can measure or count lots of things: fire departments often track response times and fire loss. Sprinkler contractors track labor hours and number of sprinklers installed. While these may be important measurements, in and of themselves, they don’t really show effectiveness.

At the MN SFMD we tracked the state’s sprinkler activations from 2004 through 2021 (18 years). During that time there were 1,405 sprinkler activations that controlled the building’s fire. Through this data we were able to collect some interesting information along with some trivia.

Some findings:

  • The leading occupancy for sprinkler activations was apartment buildings (40 percent)
  • The leading month for sprinkler activations was July
  • The leading day of the week for sprinkler activations was Friday
  • Wet-pipe sprinkler systems were involved in 92 percent of the activations
  • 90 percent of the time, sprinklers contained the damage to the object or room of origin
  • 95 percent of the time, four or fewer sprinkler activated and controlled the fire (in the case of dry-pipe system activations, 87 percent of the time, four or fewer sprinklers activated)
  • On average two sprinklers activated in all occupancy types. Single sprinkler activations were common in occupancies that tend to have lower ceilings and utilize quick-response sprinklers (such as health care, correctional, apartments, hotels, and other residential occupancies). The average number of sprinklers activated were highest in mercantile and office (3 sprinklers) and manufacturing and industrial (4 sprinklers)
  • The average valuation of the building protected with sprinklers was $9.7 Million while the loss sustained was just $94,468 (0.97 percent loss)
  • The greatest financial impact was seen in assembly, educational, apartment, and hotel occupancies where the percentages of loss were the lowest – 0.6, 0.3, 0.5, and 0.5 percent, respectively

In the future NFSA hopes to be able to analyze sprinkler activations for the entire country and provide similar data and research on sprinkler performance.