Is passive fire protection enough?

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Passive fire protection has become the de facto front line defense in containing fires and preventing loss of life in a fire in high rise buildings. This means emphasized reliance on detection and egress. Many are starting to rethink this in recent years though.

One reason for the change in attitude comes from the fact that more furnishings are made from synthetic petroleum based products. These products constitute a significantly greater fuel load which create higher temperatures in a fire. Fire with these materials can get uncontrollably hot before their smoke reaches detectors, and a fire sprinkler system would  put the fire out definitively. Putting the fire will not only allow residents to escape, but  will also quickly reduce the amount of toxic smoke.

This raises the question as to why not simply retrofit these older buildings with fire sprinkler systems? The answer is simply money. Many building managers don’t want to invest in something that isn’t cost effective, and the last thing most tenants want to see is more maintenance costs.

This raises the next question as to whether one would be so reluctant about a fire sprinkler system if one finds oneself in a fire emergency. There have been efforts to reduce the cost of sprinkler systems in new high rises. At the end of 2017 the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed into law. The law encourages building owners to act in good faith toward tenants that want to live in high rises. Under the new law any sprinkler system installed after September 27, 2017 in an existing commercial or residential (apartment, not condo) structure, will be able to be fully expensed as a capital improvement. Alas, the law expires at the end of 2022.  So, now the property owner will be able to immediately write off the full cost of the sprinkler system. That means an approximate 40% reduction in the total cost.

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