Hank Investigates: Fire sprinkler systems - WHDH-TV 7News Boston

Hank Investigates: Fire sprinkler systems

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A fire is set in this test room, it smolders, then flames and without sprinklers, quickly becomes an inferno.

In this identical room, with a sprinkler system, flames are quickly doused.

But what if that sprinkler system actually made the situation more dangerous? Investigators have made a shocking discovery--what's *in* some sprinkler *spray* can actually feed the fire!

"It's a new revelation that no one would expect would happen!" said Larry Roy, Sprinkler Engineer of LVR Corportation in Wakefield.

How could it happen?

It's a common practice among sprinkler companies in places like New England to add some antifreeze to the water in the system to keep the pipes from freezing in frigid winters.

After a series of fatal fires, investigators realized when there's too much antifreeze in the sprinkler system, it becomes an accelerant!

That's what you're seeing in this test video - the spray is actually making the fire worse!

"That spray is igniting," said Christian Dubay, Vice President of Codes and Standards and Chief Engineer at the National Fire Prevention Association.

That's what fire fighters say happened at this Northern California apartment building last year. Four children were burned and their mother was killed by a kitchen fire after the sprinklers shot anti-freeze onto the flames.

At this New Jersey restaurant the antifreeze hit a burning space heater and created a ball of fire, injuring nine people.

And in Salt Lake City last year this mother and son--severely burned--barely made it out alive when sprinkler anti-freeze spread the fire in their apartment. The family had no idea of the potential disaster.

"It sends a chill down your spine because that is there to protect your family and in our case it actually caused an explosion," said Dannie Phillips, father and husband and fire victims.

So is there too much antifreeze in the systems protecting you or your family? Unless your sprinkler company checks-you'll never know!

When installers at LVR Company learned about the potential danger--they raced to test all their customers' antifreeze levels.

Taking samples from the sprinkler pipes-they use a special meter to reveal the percent of antifreeze. If it's high, they must instantly drain the system and put in a new mixture--with less antifreeze--that won't catch fire. In this Stoneham apartment building the sprinkler system passes the test.

But this sprinkler solution was just taken from a building west of Boston.

"If this number is higher than 50, this building is potentially dangerous?" Hank asked.

"That's correct," said Bill Pappas, Sprinkler Technician at the LVR Corporation.

And look: it's 67.5! That's dangerous--the antifreeze has got to come out.

“How critical is it that you get this changed?” Hank asked.

“Very critical," Pappas said.

“Why?” Hank asked.

“You could be looking at a potential disaster in a fire situation," Pappas said.

We have learned the state fire marshal just issued a warning telling fire department to make sure all sprinkler systems in their communities get tested. If you're concerned about the sprinkler system where you live or work, call the building super and ask to have it checked.

(Copyright (c) 2011 Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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