Fire chief explains benefits of sprinklers

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine - Construction season is just around the corner, but as you plan what to do next on your home, have you considered fire suppression? Kathy McCarty met with Presque Isle's fire chief who explains the benefits of adding sprinklers, whether you're building a home or business.

Most homes and businesses have smoke detectors, giving people a few minutes to escape a fire. Adding a sprinkler system can extend that escape time, increasing one's chances of getting out alive, says Fire Chief Darrell White.

"It recognizes something's going on, and once it reaches that temperature that's set on the head, you know, between one - I think it's 135 to 165 - that little mechanism burns away, melts away, and it releases the sprinkler, and that sprinkler will activate. And usually that occurs within probably a minute to a minute and a half from the time your smoke detector goes off."

Sprinklers aren't designed so much for saving property, but they can reduce the extent of damage. Their primary purpose, says White, is saving lives.

"It may not extinguish it, but it'll hold it from growing and spreading, and it'll decrease the smoke, and it'll remove the heat, and thus giving you, the occupant, a lot more time to get out of your building safely."

White says these systems are particularly important to have in rural areas like northern Maine. Even full-time fire departments like Presque Isle's can experience a 6 to 8 minute response time, due to distance.

"Historically, you'll find that the average time to safely escape a home from the time that smoke detector goes off is three minutes. That number does increase when you provide sprinkler systems."

The chief says the benefits far outweigh the costs, when adding a system to your construction plans.

"I think the national average they're saying right now is $1.35 a foot on the building cost. So not a significantly high number compared to what it's going to do for you."

Property owners may be able to recoup some of the cost, over time, because many insurance companies offer discounts for having sprinklers installed. White says at the end of the day, just the peace of mind of knowing what a sprinkler can do for you is worth a lot.