Firefighters watching virtual reality

Fire Sprinkler Side-by-Side Burn Brings Reality Closer to Home with New Virtual Reality Video

I did not truly understand just how effective fire sprinklers were until I saw the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s (HFSC) virtual reality live fire video demonstration. I have interned at NFPA for a few months, so I knew going in that fire sprinklers are key for fire safety. However, this video showed me that fire sprinklers are so much more effective than I originally thought and have the power to save one’s belongings, home, and even life. They should be installed in every home.

The other week in Ashland City, Tennessee, the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and HFSC teamed up to record a live fire video shoot at a single-family home. The video they made was produced for virtual reality, allowing the user to get a 360-degree view during the video so they can see every angle of the house and what is happening. In the past, fire departments have conducted side-by-side live burns to demonstrate the power of fire sprinklers. However, doing a live burn demonstration is not always practical. They would require at a minimum construction of the units and EPA burn approval. Having access to virtual reality technology brings fire sprinkler education to a whole new level that is not only more personal, powerful and memorable, but eliminates the added layer of physical set up, rehab and travel.

The demonstration takes place in two identical rooms. One room has a fire sprinkler and the other doesn’t. Both fires were started on the window curtain.

The video starts with the room with the fire sprinkler. The impact of the sprinkler is almost immediate. The sprinkler, activated by the heat of the fire, goes off after about 30 seconds. At this point, the fire has engulfed one side of the window curtain. When the sprinkler activates, the fire is put out entirely.

Once the fire is put out, I could see that the damage from the fire is limited to a small corner of the room. While the room is soaked, the video notes that a family would be able to move back into the room within a couple of days.

The video then switches to the room without the fire sprinkler. The fire again quickly engulfs the window curtain. However, with no fire sprinkler, there is nothing to slow the fire down. After one minute, the fire is raging. After 90 seconds, one side of the room is completely engulfed in flames. Flashover takes place just over two minutes. The room becomes completely black with smoke and so hot that one of the cameras stopped operating. The sheer speed that flashover took place was eye- opening.

The video shows the aftermath of the room. It is completely destroyed. Everything is black. It is completely unhabitable. After watching the video, it is easy to see how fire sprinklers can save lives.

This live fire video shoot further demonstrates the need for every home to have a fire sprinkler system installed. According to NFPA's "U.S. Experience with Sprinklers" report

  • the civilian death rate was 81 percent lower in homes with fire sprinklers than in homes without them.
  • the average firefighter injury rate was nearly 80 percent lower when fire sprinklers were present during fires.
  • when sprinklers were present, fires were kept to the room of origin 97 percent of the time.
  • the home fire death rate was 90 percent lower when fire sprinklers and hardwired smoke alarms were present. By comparison, this death rate is only 18 percent lower when battery-powered smoke alarms are present but automatic extinguishing systems weren't.

The virtual reality video is scheduled to be completed later this year and will allow people to experience firsthand a fire with and without fire sprinklers, right in their own living room. A 2D version of the video will also be created for free, on-demand access via Internet. Watching the video will change your outlook on home fire sprinklers; I know it changed mine.

Learn more about HFSC’s virtual reality education kit through this short video.

Photos with captions are also available.

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Matt Levin
Matthew Levin
NFPA Public Affairs Intern

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