Alternative Technology

Feasibly, this type of system would require less water, produce less water damage, and still help to control a fire spread once one occurs. (Photo by Plumis Inc.)
Feasibly, this type of system would require less water, produce less water damage, and still help to control a fire spread once one occurs. (Photo by Plumis Inc.)

Water mist fire sprinkler systems are not necessarily a new concept in fire protection, but by comparison to traditional fire sprinklers, which have been around in one form or another since the 1800s (according to a press release from Plumis Ltd.), they would be considered so. Some friends of mine in the fire service have been trying to get me to pay more attention to these technologies for some time. And, as I have an interest in technological solutions to fire problems, a more recent development in the field caught my attention.

Alternative Method

The concept of water mist fire sprinklers resonates with my earliest training as a firefighter in the science behind firefighting. Expose more of the surface of water to heat and it will absorb the heat more quickly than a large volume of water. It is why we were taught to use fog patterns when fighting fire rather than straight streams. Others can and will debate the efficacy of this approach - especially given more recent techniques involving straight streams directed into fires from an exterior position, essentially bouncing it off ceilings and at fire sources.

But the principle of breaking up fire streams for some applications still has merit, in my opinion, and perhaps more so given the oft expressed concerns about water damage from traditional fire sprinkler systems or firefighting. Please note, any damage from a regular fire sprinkler system will (intuitively) be less than the fire damage left unchecked, but I’m sure readers get my point: Water mist systems just may solve some problems for fire protection systems.

There is a national standard for these systems, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 750, Standard on Water Mist Fire Protection Systems, that establishes the criteria that must be met to be code compliant. And the building code (International Building Code sections 903 and 904) would allow for their use as an alternative to traditional fire sprinklers when the requirements for NFPA 750 are met. Still, I’m confident there are a lot of questions at the local level on where and how these alternatives may be best applied, in particular for residential settings.

System Value

I was recently approached by one company (www.plumis.com) to review its product, the SmartScan water mist system. I’m not in a position to endorse individual technologies, but I do like to call to attention ideas and newer technologies that I believe have merit. This particular system uses a combination of heat sensors to provide water mist activations more quickly than a regular fusible link or bulb. The manufacturer claims it can activate up to two minutes faster than a traditional system. And, the scanning sprinkler head technology can be used to pinpoint the water application.

Feasibly, this type of system would require less water, produce less water damage, and still help to control a fire spread once one occurs. It appears to have applications in a retrofit situation where a complete sprinkler protection system was not feasible (for a variety of reasons).

I’ll let readers digest for themselves the many subissues here but wanted to call attention to a larger discussion about the value of water mist systems in general. For those who want to know more, a wealth of information can be obtained through the National Fire Sprinkler Association (nfsa.org) and the American Fire Sprinkler Association (www.firesprinkler.org). The National Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (homefiresprinkler.org) also has a lot of helpful information for those promoting fire sprinklers in a residential setting. I can’t say for certain where each of these organizations are relative to water mist fire sprinklers, but I’m hoping that some additional discussion is stimulated as a result.

Open to Change

Let me disclose that I’m not an engineer, and I claim no special expertise in this area. Fire protection engineers would say that the first priority of technology would be to prevent a fire from occurring in the first place, and I’ve written about some of that in the past.

Any article I’ve written regarding new technology may raise as many questions as it answers. Still, I think it important for our fire protection community to be open to the possibilities that new technologies present. And, as neutral parties (meaning nonproprietary) in this field, I think we have an obligation to make sure that we are always on the lookout for solutions that are trying to find their way to legitimate adoption and use in our communities.

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April 2017
Volume 12, Issue 4
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