EDITORIAL: Automatic Sprinkler Failures
From: Safety Engineering, Volume 37, p. 26-27,1919
In the opinion of a number of observers whose qualifications for arriving at a correct estimate are in high repute, the particular condition that is to be regarded as most seriously affecting the results of automatic sprinkler protection adversely is the installation of this device primarily on an investment basis, looking chiefly, if not wholly, to the financial results of the reduction in the cost of fire insurance.
There would appear to be, theoretically at least, good grounds for such belief, inasmuch as when such system is once installed and approved, and the insurance rates reduced, the object of the expenditure may be regarded as accomplished, and necessarily the care and upkeep needed to secure the greatest efficiency become secondary matters and are likely to be more or less neglected. In fact, some authorities personally seem disposed to attribute the greater proportion of unsatisfactory results from automatic sprinklers to precisely this cause.
Where, however, an installation is primarily for the sake of protection to the business or to life (protection for protection’s sake), the object is realized only so long as the equipment is kept in the condition of highest efficiency, and the moment the continuing attention necessary to accomplish this is relaxed the entire expenditure becomes a loss so far as its original object is concerned.
Not that the matter of reduced insurance cost is to be in any wise minimized or ignored; it is and always should be an acceptable and important factor, and it further represents the judgment of the underwriters as to its value as protection expressed in monetary terms, but only while the equipment is kept in good working order.
The record seems to fully justify the qualified opinion, and indicates this as the underlying cause for too frequent inefficiency – a moral one, perhaps, but none the less operative for that reason.
There is no reason to infer that all, or even a considerable proportion of equipments installed primarily for financial reasons are neglected, but there is abundant reason to suspect that the percentage of neglect in this class of installations is excessive.
Just what portion of installations are intended primarily for safety it is difficult to estimate. A letter of inquiry sent recently to firms under automatic sprinkler protection in a specified line of business produced 53 replies in detail, 25 of which assigned pure protection to life and property as the preponderant value of the equipment and of course inferentially the principal or primary cause for its adoption, and 28 the purely investment reason of reduced insurance rate, a somewhat discouraging proposition from one viewpoint, and from the other a matter for congratulation that so many put protection first and profit second.