Taking the Initiative – ground breaking project to install automatic fire sprinklers in existing Sheffield Tower Block whilst residents remain in their homes

Taking the Initiative - ground breaking project to install automatic fire sprinklers in existing Sheffield Tower Block whilst residents remain in their homes

On August 30th an innovative national pilot project, managed by the UK’s sprinkler trade association, BAFSA began and will address this report head on.

The current building regulations only require sprinklers to be fitted to new high rise blocks that are over 30 metres in height (18m in Scotland). Following the Lakanal House fire in which six residents died, questions were asked about the benefits of automatic fire sprinklers to protect residents in such properties. In particular, Lakanal House and similar blocks only have a single stair case – something that has been illegal for many years. It is the view of many fire experts that providing sprinklers in such properties willcompensate for this and other deficiencies.

Even though all existing housing stock in Sheffield complies with current fire regulations, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Homes recognise the benefits of automatic fire suppression in high rise buildings. Over the next 3 months, a 38 year old high- rise social housing block in Sheffield is to be fitted with an automatic fire sprinkler system to test the ease and cost of such a retrofit.

The 13-storey Callow Mount block of flats, in Gleadless, will be fitted with a sprinkler system will be fitted with a sprinkler system which will activate automatically in the event of a fire -containing and extinguishing any fire which starts and preventing the spread of flames. The system will give the 47 mainly elderly residents precious extra minutes to escape or be rescued by firefighters.This is a ground-breaking exercise -the first of its kind in the UK. There will be little disruption to residents who will be able to remain in their flats throughout the project work

The likely cost of the project is around £80,000 which is being fully funded by BAFSA and its members.

In recent years there have been a number of serious fires in older-style high- rise blocks. Some incidents have resulted in the deaths of occupants and, sadly, four firefighters. There are approximately 4000 such blocks in the UK.

The project is fully supported by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Chief Fire Officers’ Association, the Sprinkler Coordination group, the National Fire Sprinkler Network, the European Fire

Sprinkler Network and the International Fire Sprinkler Association. The US-based IFSA have also provided funding to help promote the lessons learnt from the project and to provide detailed technical information which will assist housing authorities and landlords who wish to provide similar protection.

In addition to the normal warranties and guarantees that will be included in the contract the project will be overseen by Warrington Certification who will be reviewing each stage of the project to ensure that the design and installation meets the required quality and standards. This approach will provide a level of scrutiny considerably higher than would be expected in a normal commercial contract.

Several meetings with residents have been held, following which they gave their overwhelming endorsement for the project.Further meetings will be held to ensure that the residents are fully aware of progress.

On completion of the installation a full report will be prepared. This will include practical guidance for other local authorities and private landlords to use when considering the safety potential and economic benefits of retrofitting fire sprinklers in their high-rise accommodation.

Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet member for Homes and Regeneration, Cllr Harry Harpham,said: “I am delighted to see the benefits of such a close and long standing working relationship between South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Council’s management agency, Sheffield Homes . As well as helping to protect local people from fire, this project that will provide meaningful evidence to local authorities throughout the UK of the potential to economically install fire sprinklers in high-rise properties”.

Peter Armstrong, Chairman of BAFSA said: “The project will provide the opportunity todemonstrate the practicability and cost effectiveness of using sprinklers tosafely protect people from fire in high rise tower blocks”.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Neil Hessell, of South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, said: “This is an innovative and ground-breaking project, and we are delighted that BAFSA have chosen to pilot this initiative in Sheffield. We are supportive of community-based projects to increase the safety of local residents. This sprinkler system will certainly mean the residents of Callow Mount will be safer if they were unfortunate enough to suffer a fire in the future, and could save lives”.

Chris Enness of CFOA said: “This is an exciting project which offers a practical and cost-effective solution to ensure the protection and safety of both residents and fire fighters in this type of premises. Sadly the frequency and consequences of such fires are well known to the fire and rescue services and the local communities. In addition to increasing life safety, the installation of fire sprinkler systems will reduce the economic impact of fire in these premises, the disruption caused by consequential refurbishment and the rehousing of residents and the environmental impact of the products of combustion and water used for firefighting.”

“The early intervention of a sprinkler system controls a fire in its early stages of development to minimise the damage caused by fire and smoke and reduce the risk to life. However, quickly the fire service attend a fire is likely to be more developed and the effects more serious. Fire sprinklers are the equivalent of having a personal firefighter in place in every room”.

Benefits of Fire Sprinklers

Sprinkler systems are designed to contain and extinguish a fire. They have a proven track record of saving lives and reducing injuries should a fire occur. In addition to protecting occupants sprinklers enhance fire-fighter safety by preventing the potential for backdraught and flashover situations

Each ‘sprinkler head’ is a standalone, heat sensitive device and is not activated by smoke. They are individually activated by the heat from the fire and, unlike in the movies or TV adverts, they do not all go off simultaneously. There has to be a real fire in the immediate vicinity of a sprinkler for it to be activated. 

Most fires in residential premises are controlled by one or two sprinkler heads.  93% of incidents are controlled within the design area of operation which, in the Sheffield pilot project installation, would mean the operation of one head. A sprinkler head, in residential premises requires 60 litres of water per minute to be effective, whereas water from a fire service hose would discharge 600 litres per minute.


The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association is the oldest UK trade association for the industry and celebrated its thirty-fifth birthday in 2009. It is an association of partners representing a significant majority

of third-party certificated sprinkler installers as well as manufacturers, suppliers, contractors, insurers, the fire service and others with an interest in the field.


  • Provides authoritative information on the benefits of sprinkler systems and how sprinklers can play a significant role in saving life and property from the devastating effects of fire
  • Works closely with the fire service, building control officers, insurers, architects, construction companies, developers and town planners
  • Dedicated to making sure that sprinkler systems are installed and maintained to the highest professional standards
  • Represented on a range of government sponsored bodies and thus participates at the highest level in decision making processes in respect of fire safety
  • Represents the views of its members in British Standards and other technical forums
  • Takes the lead in commissioning and publishing reports and position papers on fire protection problems which can be solved with sprinkler installations.