With more automatic fire sprinklers in use, why have building fire-safety scores gone down? See what this industry report found

by Brianna Crandall — July 18, 2018 — An overreliance on automatic fire sprinklers at the expense of passive fire-safety features, such as fire, smoke, and combination fire/smoke dampers, is thought to be the cause of a measurable decrease in building fire-safety scores since the adoption of the combined International Codes (I-Codes) in 2000, according to a new white paper from the Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA) International. AMCA is a not-for-profit association of manufacturers of fans, dampers, louvers, air curtains, and other air-system components for commercial HVAC, industrial-process, and power-generation applications; it provides certified ratings, laboratory accreditation, verification of compliance, and international standards development.

Perhaps surprising to the facilities managers (FMs) who have been conditioned to rely mainly on fire sprinkler systems, research commissioned by the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) Fire Research and Education Foundation and summarized in the white paper, “Impact of Fire-Sprinkler Trade-offs on Occupant and Building Safety,” notes the aggregate building-safety metrics of fire safety, means of egress, and general safety have declined since the I-Codes were adopted.

This is believed to indicate a shift in structural trade-offs — in particular, passive building features being traded off for active ones, most notably automatic sprinklers. The reduction of fireproofing requirements in such areas as building size/egress, unprotected opening area, and fire-resistance rating in exchange for the installation of automatic fire-sprinkler systems, often due to cost savings, have become common practice. Most of these trade-offs are put forward based on descriptive explanations lacking scientific quantitative analysis, researchers found.

The use of redundant layers of safety — both active and passive features, in the event an individual system such as the fire sprinklers fails to function as designed — is a well-established practice within the safety community and one championed by the NASFM and AMCA.

The six-page “Impact of Fire-Sprinkler Trade-offs on Occupant and Building Safety” report and other AMCA white papers are available to download at no cost from the AMCA White Papers page.