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Automatic Sprinklers

The History of Automatic Sprinkler Protection, Part One

Part 1 – The Beginnings, Perforated Piping Systems

The forerunners of the automatic sprinkler system were the perforated pipe and open sprinkler. The perforated pipe system, as its name implies, was simply a series of small perforated pipes attached to the ceiling and divided into sections.

In 1806 John Carey filed a patent in London for a perforated pipe concept for fire protection systems, but the system never gained acceptance. The world’s first recognizable sprinkler system was installed in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the United Kingdom in 1812 The apparatus consisted of a cylindrical airtight reservoir of 400 hogsheads fed by a 10 inch water main which branched to all parts of the theater. A series of smaller pipes feed from the distribution pipe were pierced with a series of ½” holes.

From 1852 to 1885, perforated pipe systems were used in textile mills throughout New England as a means of fire protection. The Providence Steam and Gas Pipe Company, later to become the Grinnell Company, was a major installer of these systems.

James B Francis was one of the first to develop a system of perforated pipes and his system was installed many New England mills. Other systems were the Whiting system, Hall system and Grinnell system. Each system having a different spacing ,and sizes of holes in an attempt to effectively distribute the water. The Hall system is notable in that it used galvanized sheet metal piping. It was soon removed from service as unreliable.

These early systems did establish some basic design concepts, Such as spacing of lines, and sizing of the pipes. One early rule was that the sizes of the pipes were of such size that the area of the orifices would not exceed 50 per cent of the area of the pipe that fed them.

Frederick Grinnell’s first patent, on March 12, 1878, concerned perforated “sprinkling-tube” that had the holes bushed with a non-corrodible material such as brass. This indicates that potential clogging of the perforations due to oxidation of the iron pipe was a major problem.

The success of perforated sprinkler piping was short lived. It is evident that with this system there was a great waste of water, and probably poor distribution. Furthermore, the systems were not in any way automatic. They were manually activated by the building occupants. By discharging water over the entire area of the room where there was no fire, the water damage usually greatly exceeded the fire damage. The lack of automatic operation was the main problem as nearly all of the highly destructive fires occurred at night when there was no one in attendance.

Next – The First Automatic Sprinklers

What is the best material used to extinguish fires?

What is the best material available to man to use in fire protection systems? Oxidane, Hydrogen oxide, Dihydrogen monoxide, Hydrogen Hydroxide, Hydroxylic acid, Hydroxic acid H2O or just plain old WATER? Actually all the items listed are just water!

We are in the business of putting water on fires. Either as a fire sprinkler contractor or fire fighter. We both employ specialized equipment whose only purpose is to get water on the fire in many different ways.

What makes water such a great fire fighting medium? Both as liquid water and as vaporized steam, water has properties that make it good for firefighting. Water has a high capacity for holding heat. Thus when applied to a fire, water carries the heat away and reduces the fuel’s temperature. When water absorbs enough heat it turns to steam which is effective in displacing oxygen and starving the fire.

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Class vs Pounds The Rating of fittings

What is the pressure rating of a Class 125 fitting? What is the pressure rating of a Class 250 fitting? The answer to both of those questions is the same. It depends!

One thing that’s been a problem over the years in dealing with fittings is the nomenclature used. For years we called our cast iron fittings 175 pound fittings. And then when we needed higher pressures we called for 300 pound fittings. I’ve had plenty of discussions with engineers over what fittings to use due to a general misunderstanding of how fittings are rated. I learned to start by trying to educate people about this subject.

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Glass Bulb Sprinklers

Grinnell Quartz Bulb 1931

I’m sure everyone is familiar with glass bulb fire sprinklers. So much so in fact that they may not be familiar with fusible link sprinklers. The glass bulb is considered the standard type of sprinkler operation today. But, us older folks in the sprinkler community remember a time when the fusible link sprinklers were the standard. But did you know that the glass bulb sprinkler has been around over 80 years!

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