Coventry & Warwickshire

Warwickshire Fire Service makes case for sprinkler law

"The difference between life and death," is how one fire service has described the use of automatic sprinklers in homes.

Warwickshire Fire and Rescue service is supporting calls from the Chief Fire Officers Association for a change in the law to force all new homes to be fitted with the sprinklers.

Earlier this year, the Welsh Assembly passed a law called the Domestic Fire Safety Measure to fit sprinklers in new homes.

To illustrate the difference between fire damaged homes with sprinklers and those without, I was invited to take part in a fire demonstration in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Nothing prepares you for the reality of flames close up.

Under extremely controlled conditions, we began filming in two identical houses designated for demolition.

Image caption Fire crews estimated it would take up to six minutes for the fire to take hold, in practice it took two

One house was fitted with sprinklers the other was not.

We had expected it to take about six minutes for the fire to take hold in the house without the sprinklers.

Almost as soon as the fire started, flames licked across the ceiling, pictures fell off the wall and smoke started to fill the room.

Within two minutes the shout was given to get out. Crawling on our hands and knees we left the house with toxic smoke billowing through the windows, in another few minutes, windows shattered and flames engulfed the room.

The waiting firefighters quickly brought the fire under control but as the smoke cleared it was easy to see the damage fire causes.

Ten minutes later we moved next door.

Two sprinklers had been fitted in the living room where the sofa had been set alight.

As the flames started licking up the walls, the temperature hit 68 degrees centigrade and the sprinklers activated.

We quickly became wet and the flames were dampened. Once again the firefighters brought the fire under control, but as the smoke cleared the difference between the two houses was clear.

Image caption The living room installed with sprinklers suffered some smoke damage

The first property was severely damaged whereas the house with the sprinklers simply needed to be redecorated.

The Chief Fire Officers Association endorses the installation of sprinkler systems in all new build homes.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said there were no plans to oblige builders to fit sprinklers in new homes.

He said: "Extensive analysis has shown that this is neither necessary nor cost effective."

Fire services say they will continue to promote sprinklers.

One firefighter said to me that years ago air bags in cars were seen as a luxury, but now they're seen as a necessity.

He hoped this may also become the case with sprinklers.

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