Over the past 40 years, an estimated 90,000 lives have been saved by smoke detection and fire protection technologies. Research studies today show the odds of dying in a house fire are reduced by 50% if you have a working smoke detector versus not having any smoke detectors. And in commercial buildings, even in the presence of sprinkler systems, the benefits of smoke detection are obvious.
A review of National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data encompassing approximately 197,000 fires, conducted by James A. Milke, Ph.D., P.E., and others from the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland, showed casualties were low in buildings equipped with sprinklers and smoke detectors.
However, cases with fires “too small” to trigger sprinklers can still be dangerous. Casualty rates were significantly greater in fires that didn’t trigger sprinklers than in those that were too small to trip more sensitive smoke detectors (see chart). Furthermore, the data show that in cases where sprinklers did not operate, detectors triggered and alerted occupants 89% (single and multiple residential) to 100% (healthcare) of the time.
Sprinkler systems, by design, provide a localized response – heat (typically above 135 degrees) triggers the sprinkler directly where the fire is burning. Smoke detection systems, however, are integrated across commercial buildings to quickly warn occupants of a potential danger before it spreads.