When Were Fire Sprinklers Invented? – The History of Fire Sprinklers

Fire alarm box on wall

A reliable fire sprinkler system is one of the most important pieces of fire safety equipment today. They are an integral defense against fires in residential and commercial buildings. 

Despite their widespread use, relatively few people know the history of fire sprinkler systems. That’s why we will explain when fire sprinklers were invented and how the latest versions differ from the earliest models. We’ll even dive into the equipment that makes having a fire sprinkler system convenient and risk-free.

When Were Fire Sprinklers Invented? 

While it may surprise you, fire sprinklers actually have their origins in ancient times. In fact, the earliest recorded use of a rudimentary fire sprinkler system dates back to ancient Rome

Thanks to the ancient Roman’s obsession with meticulously recording schematics and statistics, we have the architectural notes of Vitruvius, a Roman architect and engineer.

According to his notes, the Romans installed a series of pipes in certain buildings that could distribute water from the ceiling in the event of an uncontrolled fire. These basic fire sprinklers held water along the ceiling, which would be released if a building occupant pulled a rope or pulley system. 

While these early systems were rudimentary compared to today’s automatic fire sprinkler systems, they still served the same primary purpose. In the centuries that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, other ancient civilizations developed their fire sprinkler systems – many of which resembled those developed by the ancient Romans.

When Was the First Automatic Fire Sprinkler Invented?

Until the 19th century, there were barely any improvements to the earliest fire sprinkler systems the ancient Romans used. However, in 1874, American engineer Henry S. Parmelee patented the first automatic fire sprinkler system. 

This major advancement in fire sprinkler design relied on using a unique metal alloy that would melt when exposed to the temperatures that a large fire would generate. Parmelee used this alloy for the valves in his system.

When the alloy valve was exposed to high enough temperatures, it would melt, opening the valve and releasing the water it was holding back. This water would then cascade from the ceiling, extinguishing the fire below. 

The genuinely ground-breaking feature of this design was that the water could be released without human involvement. Like a modern system, this meant that a person did not have to identify the fire; the system would protect the building, occupants, and property without an operator. Even if the building were utterly empty, it would still have a basic level of fire protection. 

While this early design was not widely adopted out of concerns about cost and reliability, it still significantly impacted the fire sprinkler designs that followed. 

Fire Sprinkler Systems in the 20th Century

Throughout the 20th Century, most countries developed stricter fire safety standards. This included forming the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which was crucial in establishing guidelines for fire safety equipment in commercial and industrial buildings, like fire sprinklers.

This move led to more widespread adoption of fire sprinklers and innovations in the systems’ design. Another significant difference from earlier systems was that many architects began incorporating fire sprinklers into the actual design of their buildings, so structures had a basic level of fire protection before they were even occupied.

More durable and reliable fire sprinklers and heads that could distribute water more effectively following activation were developed. Dedicated water reservoirs also ensure that fire sprinkler systems can receive a constant water flow during a fire.

The Latest Fire Sprinkler Systems

Like the centuries that preceded it, the 21st century has seen a wide range of improvements in fire sprinkler system design. Modern systems can rely on delicate sensors to reduce false activations and the accompanying water damage. 

One of the best ways to avoid accidental water damage is by keeping a Shutgun fire sprinkler shut off tool next to every fire extinguisher in the building. It can be conveniently stored in a case or mounted on the wall.

The latest sprinkler systems are also far more interconnected, meaning their activation can be tied to other fire safety equipment, like fire alarms or emergency lighting, and some can even alert first responders by letting them know a fire has been detected. 

Not only are these systems more user-friendly and reliable, they are also more affordable and easier to install. This has led to more widespread use in residential buildings that are not legally required to have a fire sprinkler system. 

Despite the remarkable advancements in fire sprinkler technology, they are still susceptible to certain issues. One of the primary challenges is that even the latest systems can still misfire and be susceptible to false activations related to human error. In either scenario, water damage can be a significant concern.

Even if the fire sprinkler is activated for the right reasons and manages to extinguish a fire, it can still expel water. Given that a single fire sprinkler head can release 60 gallons of water per minute, the water damage that can occur while building owners wait for first responders to deactivate the fire sprinkler system can be incredibly costly. 

What Can You Do About Fire Sprinkler Water Damage?

If you want to avoid tens of thousands of dollars in water damage to your property, it is time to invest in the Shutgun. This affordable and user-friendly tool can quickly and easily deactivate a fire sprinkler head. 

The Shutgun can be operated with one hand to be used safely from a ladder, even by untrained personnel. It works with a wide range of fire sprinkler heads, and it is small enough that multiple Shutguns can be distributed throughout a larger building, so they are always on hand. 

Ready to prevent fire sprinkler-related water damage? Click the link below: 

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