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THE CASE FOR SPRINKLERS

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British Steel's Jef Robinson points out: 'The interesting thing is that generally people don't die from collapsing buildings. They die from smoke.' Like many fire engineers, British Steel's Robinson and Arup's Keith Lee believe that the simplest and best method of fire protection for both people and property is to use sprinklers. Fire engineers deny the widespread misconception about sprinklers. They don't go off en-masse, but are activated individually by heat. Their reliability is not patchy, it's very good and with more rigorous policing could be as high as 99 per cent reliable. Sprinklers do far less damage than fire hoses simply because they are local to the fire. Instead of drenching the whole building after the fire has taken hold, sprinklers wet only the fire zone, and normally put the fire out immediately. Sprinklers can be buried in walls and operate horizontally or at an angle - they don't have to be in the ceiling. And since they are of relatively unsophisticated design, architects could probably lose the cost of designing their own in a large office building. In future, clients might well take note that insurance premiums for sprinkler-protected offices are substantially lower than for non-protected offices.

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