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West Midlands, Tall Building Residential Duplex Sprinkler Activation

17 August 2022 @ 12:00 am - 11:59 pm

West Midlands Fire Rescue Service (WMFRS) have reported the following sprinkler save following a fire within a high-rise residential purpose-built block of flats involving a duplex maisonette.


  • A duplex maisonette is an apartment having rooms on two floors connected by an internal staircase found in high rise residential blocks of flats typically with an alternative emergency exit. The design are typically a mixture of up flats and down flats with various layouts, designs.
  •  Built in the 1960s, this purpose-built block of flats consisted of nine storeys, the flats located on ground floor are single level, the upper floors are duplex maisonettes with access via open balcony walkways


  • Fire Safety Concerns were identified by the landlord that the alternative means of escape within the maisonettes which would not meet today’s regulatory guidance.
  • The legacy means of escape located in the lower level of the maisonette consisted of an access hatch in the ceiling, in the event of a fire compromising the means of escape to the upper floor.

The tenant would be expected to.

  • Release the access hatch catch with a wooden pole, pull down the ladder.
  • Proceed to climb the ladder to the access floor level.
  • The small emergency escape door would then be released, releasing the panic latch
  • The tenant would then evacuate to a final place of safety

The decision was taken by the landlord to retrofit a residential sprinkler system installed to BS9251:2014 as a compensatory measure


Image, Emergency Access Hatch

Benefit of Sprinklers

 The installation of the residential sprinkler system would provide a further layer of safety from fire for the tenants, the benefit of which would allow.

  • The fire to be contained/control or extinguished, reducing the rate of production of heat and smoke, allowing more time for the tenants to escape to safety
  • A sprinkler alarm to be transmitted to the alarm receiving centre in the event of the fire allowing the appropriate emergency response
  • A further layer of safety for the protection of firefighters

It should be noted, due to the variety, complexity of the layouts it is very difficult for firefighters in the event of a fire to understand the vertical perspective which is paramount for firefighters’ situational awareness.

The Incident

  • Fire and Rescue Service; West Midlands Fire & Rescue Service
  • Premises Type; Residential Block of flats of 9 storeys
  • Where, West Midlands
  • When; July 2022


  • Local knowledge of operational crews was clearly demonstrated identifying the building as a duplex apartment design with a fire on a lower level, the incident commander committed a team of 4 wearing Breathing Apparatus (BA) to extinguish the fire, perform search and rescue operations.
  • When accessing a fire compartment from above, firefighters may be required to descend through hot fire gases. This heat layer will usually be the hottest section of the compartment fire and may increase internal body temperature of firefighters, affecting the integrity of firefighting media, personal protection equipment.
  • The seat of the fire was identified to be within a cupboard containing the hot water tank where clothing was identified as being stored on top of the tank which caught light. The cause of the fire is under investigation
  • The fire was contained and controlled by the actuation of 1x sidewall sprinkler head prior to the BA team extinguishing the fire
  • The occupants of the apartment were all accounted for with three adults receiving precautionary check-ups on scene by ambulance personnel for smoke inhalation but did not require hospital attendance or further treatment, the cause of the fire is under investigation
  • The tenant hailed the swift response of the fire crews and was surprised at the effect of the sprinkler system, noting that he had anticipated all the heads actuating simultaneously, yet only the head next to the actual fire did so.

    Image Copyright WMFRS

       Seat of fire, clothing located on top of the hot water tank

Impact of the Residential Fire Sprinkler System

  • 1 x Sidewall Fire Sprinkler Head located adjacent to the cupboard activated containing/controlling the fire preventing the fire from spreading from the compartment of origin.
  • As the cupboard was recessed into the wall from which the fire sprinkler head was mounted its coverage, effectiveness was impacted.

However, at the operational debrief the initial Breathing Apparatus team committed to tackle the fire commented.

  • Conditions were tenable descending the stairs
  • The smoke was very light in colour, due to its dilution with water discharged from the fire sprinkler head
  • The fire was contained/controlled


Image Copyright WMFRS

Image, activated sidewall sprinkler head

Business Continuity

Relatively minor fire and smoke damage spread from the compartment of origin, water egress was minimised due to the prompt action of operational crews isolating the fire sprinkler isolation valve.

Image Copyright WMFRS

Image, living accommodation

Image, alternative means of escape

Both the landlord and West Midland Fire Rescue Service, should be applauded for their approach, commitment to sprinklers, sending a clear message

  • Sprinklers can supress or even extinguish a fire, saving both lives and property clear benefits for the environment reducing carbon emissions
  • Promoting sprinkler saves to a wider audience will entice other landlords, architects to follow their lead making sprinklers the norm not the exception


This incident clearly reinforces the benefits of retrofitting fire sprinklers in high-rise residential fires.

  1. Rapidly reducing the rate of production of heat and smoke allowing tenable conditions for operational crews to safely extinguish the fire and carry out search and rescue operations
  2. Containing the fire to compartment of origin
  3. Flash over conditions minimised
  4. Internal fire spread contained/controlled, preventing further fire spread to the common ways
  5. Relatively minor fire prevented from being a major fire
  6. Supports The most recent UK research ¹was commissioned by The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), National Fire Sprinkler Network (NFSN) and supported by BAFSA. The research report that across all premises types:
  • Sprinklers are 99% efficient in extinguishingor controlling a fire
  • Sprinklers are 94% efficient in their abilityto operate

¹Efficiency and Effectiveness of Sprinkler Systems in the United Kingdom: An Analysis from Fire Service Data – Optimal Economics 2017







17 August 2022
12:00 am - 11:59 pm