A few years ago we were engaged to add suppression to Huntingdon’s old town hall (Grade 1 star listed) which, being too small for the council was sold off and was being re developed into apartments.

We were called into a site meeting to discuss our work. There were about 18 people in attendance at that meeting including the local conservation officer for English Heritage.

The meeting took place in a very nice room which was to be a living area in its proposed future use.

This room has walls completely clad in 16th C.  timber (Oak I think I recall) and this was considered to be of very significant value and concern.

The conservation officer declared that this room must not have sprinkler protection because in the event of a fire, the sprinklers would damage the timber.

Carefully I worded my advice as follows; – “Madam, if this room were to have a fire incident, and that incident was unchecked, flashover would occur at the average time for domestic fires in around 6 minutes. At the point of flashover the heat in the compartment which is alight tends to melt the flesh off occupants who find themselves trapped in the room of origin for whatever reason. However, this does not cause those occupants any pain as they had already died 2 or 3 minutes ago from smoke inhalation”.

I continued – “once the first fire brigade appliance arrives at the urban response time target of 8.5 minutes they will do their risk assessment and deploy to fight the fire within 90 seconds upon which each of 1 to 3 hoses delivers 1100litres per minute into the building (which by now is well alight)”.

“The alternative to the complete loss of the room of origin and serious fire and then water damage to much of the remainder of the whole building is as follows” I continued.

“In 90% of all domestic fire just a single sprinkler head operates putting down some 50 litres per minute into the fire which it will definitely suppress and usually extinguish, leaving the fire and rescue service upon arrival some 10 minutes later to turn off the sprinklers once they have satisfied themselves the fire has been extinguished.” I explained to the meeting.

I ended by explaining the difference between 50LPM x 10 minutes being around 500L total as opposed to the FRS delivering 1100 LPM  x between 1 and 3 hoses for around 20 minutes whilst the first strike team searched the building for bodies.

There was a long  period of silence in the room, until one or two people could no longer stifle their chuckles, and finally the silence was broken by the conservation officer who by now realised the absurdity of her statement and she agreed that sprinklers would be a good idea on the basis that wet timber was better than charcoal.

I promise you, this is a true story.

I welcome those who read this to pass it on to others in your own industry and ask only that you credit our company’s name to this message


Keith Rhodes

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