Live sprinkler

The biggest problem with fire sprinklers? Not enough places have them.

The recently published 2021 edition of the NFPA US Experience with Sprinklers report shows that properties with sprinklers have lower rates of fire deaths and injuries. In most occupancies, property loss is also reduced.

From 2015 to 2019, local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 51,000 structure fires per year (10 percent) in which sprinklers were present. Sprinklers are in all kinds of buildings, ranging from homes to hospitals, schools to stores, etc.  Compared to reported fires in properties with no automatic extinguishing systems (AES) such as sprinklers, range hood extinguishing systems, etc., when sprinklers were present, the civilian fire death and injury rates per fire were 89 percent and 27 percent lower, respectively. The rate of firefighter injuries per fire was 60 percent lower.

Sprinklers are highly reliable and effective in suppressing fires and reducing loss. Sprinklers operated in 92 percent of such fires and were effective at controlling the fire in 96 percent of the incidents in which they operated. Overall, sprinkler systems operated and were effective in 88 percent of the fires considered large enough to activate them.

One sprinkler is usually enough to control a fire. In 77 percent of the structure fires where sprinklers operated, only one operated. In 97 percent, five or fewer operated. Fire spread was confined to the object or room of origin in 95 percent of reported structure fires in which sprinkler systems were present compared to 71 percent in properties with no AES.

Home fire sprinklers

The report also includes a section specifically on sprinklers in home fires. Despite the fact that more people die from home fires than fires in any other occupancy, sprinklers were present in only 7 percent of reported home fires.  Compared to fires with no AES, in home fires with sprinklers present, rates per reported fire were:

  • 88 percent lower for civilian deaths,
  • 28 percent lower for civilian injuries, and
  • 78 percent lower for firefighter injuries

The average loss per fire was 62 percent lower for home fires with sprinklers compared to fires in properties with no AES.

Sprinklers operated in 95 percent of the home fires in which the systems were present and the fires were considered large enough to activate them. They were effective at controlling the fire in 97 percent of the fires in which they operated. Taken together, sprinklers operated effectively in 92 percent of the fires large enough to trigger them. Learn more about home fire sprinklers from the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

Check out the full report for more information about sprinklers in all occupancies.

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Marty Ahrens
Fire Analysis Research Manager

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