Fire Sprinklers: A Cost-Effective Solution to Passing Chicago’s High-Rise Life Safety Evaluation

Fire sprinklers are important for life safety in residential high-rises and they are easier to install in existing high-rises than
most people think. The infrastructure is already in place since all high-rises have a standpipe, which is usually in a stairwell so that firefighters can access it for their hoses, and a pump for municipal water supply. Fire sprinkler systems can easily be retrofitted into a building by connecting them to the standpipe.

To comply with the City’s LSE, buildings must have one- or two-way communications systems and doors/corridors that are fire-rated for one hour. But to fully comply, additional measures may need to be taken, many of which are disruptive to occupants. By installing fire sprinklers, however, buildings can bypass those additional measures entirely. Fire sprinkler installations in individual living units usually can be scheduled around occupants’ work schedules so there is minimal disruption with daily living. Check out the McClurg Court Complex and 400 West Deming Place in Chicago for examples of work completed.

Fire Sprinklers are the Single Most Effective Way to Protect High-Rise Occupants in a Fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 87% of all recorded fire deaths in 2016 occurred where people live*. When fire sprinklers are combined with hardwired smoke alarms, the risk of dying in a fire is cut by at least 90% when compared to having neither. Fire sprinklers provide the ultimate protection for high-rise occupants.**

Only the Fire Sprinkler Closest to the Fire Will Activate

Fire sprinklers are individually heat-activated and connected to a network of plastic or steel pipe filled with water. When the heat of a fire rises to a sprinkler’s operating temperature, usually between 135°-175°F, a fusible link or glass bulb will activate only that sprinkler over the fire, thereby releasing water only over the source of heat. The fire sprinkler will control or extinguish the fire in its place of origin.

Fire Sprinklers are Important for High-Rise Life Safety, Allowing Occupants Time to Escape

Fire sprinklers do not rely upon human factors such as familiarity with escape routes or emergency assistance. They go to work immediately to reduce the danger of fires. Sprinklers prevent the fast-developing fires of intense heat (flashover), which are capable of trapping and killing occupants within 3 minutes (UL). Fire Sprinklers Provide Insurance Benefits Occupants’ fire insurance rates can be reduced by 5% to 20%, making a building more attractive to prospective occupants. Also, installing fire sprinklers in a residential high-rise building creates insurance savings for the building owner(s) when common areas are sprinklered.

For additional resources, please visit the National Fire Protection Association or the United States Fire Administration.

Maureen Marley’s story. An apartment fire killed 1 neighbor and eight firefighters and destroyed the 14th floor that she lived on.
Ed Prendergast served as fire prevention engineer with the Chicago Fire Department for 30 years.

High Rise Sprinkler Retrofit