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UAS Sitka Campus constructs Buildings used in Fire Tests

The test consisted of two identical buildings that would be set on fire and monitored.

On October 29, 2010 a test was conducted by the University of Alaska, Southeast, Sitka Campus Construction Program, in conjunction with the City of Sitka Building Department and the Sitka Fire Department to evaluate the effectiveness of residential sprinklers.

The test consisted of two identical buildings that would be set on fire and monitored. The buildings were built at the UAS Sitka Campus hanger by students in the Construction Technology class. The buildings were 8’x 8’x 8’, wood framed, sheet rocked and painted.  They were then carpeted, curtains were installed, and the rooms furnished with a single bed, desk, computer, books and clothes. Both buildings were equipped with a battery powered smoke alarm. The only difference between the two buildings was that one of the buildings had a single sprinkler head installed in the ceiling. The buildings had Plexiglas installed across the front of them, extending half way down so that the fire could be monitored and the heat and smoke contained. A 4” hole was drilled through the back wall to light a wastebasket on fire. A timer was started as soon as the wastebasket was lit on fire.

No Sprinkler

The building with no sprinkler was the first to be tested.

Non-Sprinkler building after:

13.5 seconds, the smoke alarm activated.
48 seconds, the Plexiglas melted.
1 min, 32 seconds, flashover occurred.
3 min, 20 seconds, the room was completely engulfed in a raging, rolling fire with toxic black smoke pouring out of the room. The Fire Department used a hose to put out the fire.

The room with no sprinkler was in surprisingly good shape after the fire.  There was minimal damage to the actual room.  The sheetrock and paint sustained minimal structural damage; however they sustained extensive smoke damage.  The contents of the room were completely destroyed by the fire.
Most of the furnishings in a typical room are made out of petroleum based materials and are highly flammable:  Fabrics, bedding, computer monitors and carpets all burn very hot and emit huge amounts of toxic smoke.  The Fire Chief said that modern houses burn much hotter and faster than houses of a generation ago.
The Fire Chief also said that after a minute or so, no one in the room would have survived the fire.

Building with sprinklers

The building with the sprinkler head installed in the ceiling was tested next.

Sprinkler building after:

5.5 seconds, the smoke alarm activated.
20 seconds, the sprinkler activated.
50 seconds, the fire was extinguished by the sprinkler.

Damage to the sprinkled room was minimal.  There was a little smoke damage and a little fire damage to some of the furnishings. The Fire Chief said that virtually anyone would have lived through that fire.

This test was successful in evaluating the effectiveness of installing sprinkler systems in houses and buildings. The cost to install a sprinkler system in a new house is approximately 1% of the cost of the building. Retrofitting an existing building would, of course, cost substantially more, but would be a worthwhile investment.


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