Blair Garrett

In a town entrenched in fire history, training, and safety lies a facility dedicated to the preservation and protection of valuable fire information and memorabilia.

Between the vintage fire trucks and hand-pulled hose wagons, the development in fire protection has come a long way over the past century. 

The advances in sprinkler technology, in particular, have revolutionized the way homes are protected, and often times prevented from extensive fire damage.

There are a few different types of sprinklers that have become popularized for residential and industrial use over the years. The pendent sprinkler, similar in appearance to a pendent necklace, hangs down from the ceiling to disperse water across the room, dousing flames and giving civilians ample time to safely escape.

The sidewall sprinkler, true to its name, fights fires in a wall-mounted position.

The upright sprinkler, fit with a design to avoid being knocked around or damaged by ladders or moving parts, is commonly found in industrial workplaces and is fit with a dry system to prevent the water from freezing in a time of need.

All of these different, but necessary, designs operate similarly, but are uniquely fit to provide protection in all sorts of situations. Several of these sprinklers are on display inside a built-to-scale model home in the Vigilant Fire Company. 

The importance of the sprinkler system has been cemented in the history of fire safety, but it has never been more prevalent in society and more important than it is today. With the apex of technology at its peak, there are more fire hazards in residential and industrial settings than ever before. 

“Everything inside of an office or a home is all extremely combustible and very toxic when it burns,” National Fire Heritage Center Historian Wayne Powell said. “Today, everything is basically gasoline in a solid state.”

Fortunately, the advances in technology have left us with a virtually fail-proof way of protecting the lives of citizens, as well as firefighters arriving on scene to battle flames. “There has never been a sprinkler system that has failed if it was properly designed, properly installed, and properly maintained,” Powell said.

While fire protection and prevention laws are not perfect, much has been done over the years to implement life-saving utilities, particularly in Maryland. “If you were to buy a home in Maryland, you would have to put in a fire sprinkler system,” stated Powell.

The same goes for new businesses, which have regulations set in place to protect workers, with functional, monitored sprinkler systems; because, without them, first responders cannot always arrive on scene before the real damage occurs.

“Sometimes in a fire, the people are dead before we even get the call,” Powell said. “You’ve got alarm time, response time, and set up time to attack. So, it can be a long time before we’re actually able to make an attack on the fire, and people will perish in the interim.”

The hope for the near future is to have legislation to ensure buildings are fitted with operational sprinklers and maintained to a standard suitable for the protection of residents inside. The use of combustible lightweight materials for the structure of buildings is also a concern with modern architecture. 

However, it is possible sprinklers are moving in a new direction, possibly away from the standard ones found throughout the United States. Though water damage from a pendent or sidewall sprinkler is not ideal, there is nothing to save if fire is allowed to run rampant through a home.

“This is a mist head sprinkler,” NFHC Archivist Frank Schmersal said. “This is the future of sprinklers. It sprays a mist that disperses across the flames, doing less damage than the water and giving people a chance to escape.”

Although sprinkler development has been rapidly growing over the past few decades, there are still great improvements that can be made. Decade after decade, the designs and efficiency of sprinklers get better and better. One thing is for sure, while there is still work to be done, firefighters will be able to rely on sprinklers to provide them valuable rescue time for years to come.  

Wayne Powell explains the intricacies of commercial sprinkler systems.

A piece of The National Fire Heritage Center’s evolution of the sprinkler.

Share →