Should Sprinklers be Installed in Garages & Car Parks?
Have you ever spotted a sprinkler system in a multi-storey car park? It’s unlikely. That’s because, under the current Building Regulations for England and Wales, it is not a legal requirement for enclosed multi-storey car parks to feature this form of fire protection.
However, it’s a tricky situation. While it’s not a legal requirement, the growing fire risks in the automotive world – coupled with real-life devastation – are forcing developers to think differently.
The growing risks
Today, car parks tend to use firewalls, fire doors, and ventilation systems as their primary forms of fire protection. Unfortunately, as the European Committee of the Manufacturers of Fire Protection Equipment and Fire Fighting Vehicles notes, these systems aren’t always up to the task. The EUROFEU states that while ventilation systems are suitable for fire localisation, they are not capable of automatic fire fighting, preventing spread, containing fire, or restricting smoke development.
And this is a problem at a time when the risk of car fire is growing. These risks have been growing for some time as the number of cars on the road increases. However, the shift to electric vehicles, with their lithium-ion batteries, is understood to be heightening the risk. Although it’s true that, in 2019, the London Fire Brigade tackled just 54 electric car fires compared to almost 1900 fires caused by petrol and diesel cars, it’s important to remember that there are significantly fewer EVs on the road.
The most notable car park fire in the UK in recent years is undoubtedly the Kings Dock fire that occurred in Liverpool in 2017. Breaking out during the Liverpool International Horse Show when the car park was almost at capacity, a single car fire ended up destroying 1150 vehicles. The damage was so severe that the entire structure had to be demolished. Fortunately, there was no loss of life.
Although no people or horses were harmed, the event sparked serious questions over car park safety – and whether the damage would have been as significant had a sprinkler system been in place.
The Liverpool car park fire was certainly one of the biggest and most devastating in recent years. However, it’s far from the only one. Car park fires have been noted across the UK and Ireland, with fires in Cork in 2019, Manchester and Dublin in 2008, Brent Cross in 2007, and Bristol in 2006.
The case for sprinklers
Between 1994 and 2005, there were 162 fires reported in UK car parks fitted with fire suppression systems. Automatic sprinklers successfully helped to extinguish or contain at least 100 of these fires.
Talking about the Liverpool fire, Dan Stephens of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said, “I believe a sprinkler system would have suppressed the fire. It would definitely have given us a much better opportunity to put out the fire before it spread to the extent it did.” Additionally, in a report by the Fire & Rescue Service, it was noted that “designers should seriously consider sprinkler provision to avoid multiple vehicle fires, resulting in huge insurable losses and the possible loss of life.”
The use of sprinkler systems in car parks is strongly supported by those in the industry. The National Fire Chiefs Council – the professional voice of the UK Fire and Rescue Service – wants to see “more widespread use of automated water suppression systems in nearly all buildings, but in particular… an increase in use of sprinklers in housing for vulnerable persons, care facilities, high rise accommodation, large volume warehousing, factories, car parks and waste and recycling facilities.”
At Eversafe, we specialise in fire protection systems such as dry & wet risers, and sprinkler systems. And we’ve seen first-hand how having the right protection in place can make a difference between minor damage and complete devastation. We proudly stand with the NFCC, believing that sprinkler systems do have a place in garages and car parks. For more information about sprinkler installation in multi-storey car parks, or to find out more about what we do, get in touch with us here.