As I’ve said, I’m a strong supporter of sprinkler systems, however, there are some important points to consider when it comes to sprinklers in your barn, points that it would be irresponsible of me or any other fire service official to ignore in fire protection discussions. Terry Dayton, who grew up with horses, has a good background in business and currently has a company that provides fire and mold protection for residential, commercial and agricultural applications.
Here’s what Terry told me:
“Your article is great and as a horse lover I understand the loss of a horse. I have read many articles about barn fires, and some people suggest the use of fire sprinklers in barns. This is a good idea but not very practical since sprinklers will need more water than most barn systems have available unless you get a second well. There is also the problem of maintaining the system and keeping the [sprinkler] heads free from dirt and debris. The heads are placed high and go off at 200 degrees so that means a fire is well underway before the sprinkler goes off, that is, if it was maintained correctly. Sprinklers require electric power to function, so if you lose power, you lose your pump.
“Don’t forget the cost which, when all is said and done could be $16.00 a square foot or more. Sprinklers can be turned off by accident and must be able to be turned off for inspection. Lastly, sprinklers are reactionary so a fire has already started.”
Terry does offer an alternative:
“The best thing to do is to apply a non-toxic, non-carcinogenic fire retardant to your wood surfaces. This cannot fail due to poor maintenance or lack of power or lack of water pressure. Fire retardants are proactive, meaning they can stop a fire from even starting. Fire retardants are cost effective at less than $2.00 a square foot, installed and certified by a trained installer. Look for fire retardants that are UL Classified, passed ASTM E-84, NFPA, ICC compliant, and are “GREEN” building friendly. I have seen one company’s product on Extreme Home Makeover and it would not burn. I now have their products in my home and barn and I sleep a lot better at night knowing I am protected.”
When I replied to Terry, I said, “The drawback to fire-retardant coatings is that, with the exception of a lightning strike or fire coming to the barn from the exterior, as in the case of brush or wildfires, most barn fires are caused by something occurring inside the barn, such as a knocked-over portable heater falling onto bedding. The protected wood structures might not burn, but the toxic smoke emitted by the bedding and other flammable materials will kill the barn occupants within minutes. If a person is trying to save their structure, fire-retardant lumber and coatings are definitely worth doing, and I think fire-retardant treatments are a valuable part of the fire protection picture. Still, most horse owners (and owners of other livestock) care very much about their animals, whether from an emotional or economic standpoint, so our emphasis must be on saving lives first, not property.”
Terry will be happy to discuss fire protection options with you and to answer your questions. You can contact Terry at:
P.O. Box 1461
Easton MD 21601
Phone (410) 819-0407