More Than Hangers You Can’t Use

The Important Role of Fire Sprinklers in Protecting College Students

by Michael Wilson


A college dorm painted blue


Fire sprinklers are common in many dorm rooms and off campus apartments in America. College students may recognize them as the pipes their Resident Assistants tell them not to use for clothes-lines or pull up bars. Beyond that, students may not have much interaction with their fire sprinklers. But it is important to know about the life saving role fire sprinkler systems have, and the long road their advocates had in making them a staple in college dorms across the country.

The New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NJFSAB) and the PenJerDel chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) work to inform college students and their families about the importance of fire sprinklers on college campuses, and to dispel some common myths on how these systems operate.

Dorm Fires: A Tragic Reality

Historically, dorm fires are not uncommon in America. Even in the wake of the tragic Providence College fire of 1977 and the Seton Hall fire of 2000, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that dorm fires increased 24% since 2003. The NFPA also reported the following statistics from 2005 to 2015:

  • 76 off-campus fires caused 107 fatalities
  • 7 on-campus building or residence hall fires claimed 9 victims
  • 6 fires in Greek housing took the lives of 10 people

So, while many of us are conscious of the tragedies of the past, many college students do not consider fire safety to be a priority. Luckily, where unaware college students fail, technology succeeds.

Important Facts to Know About Your Dorm’s Fire Sprinkler System

With sprinkler systems being common in many college dorms, many new students may have questions or concerns about them. We have already established that they save lives, and this is no doubt important, but what about their effect on a student’s day-to-day life? For many students, this will be their first time with a sprinkler system in their room or apartment. Should they change the way they cook or live? Many may also wonder what may happen if temperatures dip below freezing. Could pipes burst?

Here are some facts to dispel any concerns students may have with their dorm’s sprinkler system.

Fire sprinklers react to heat, not smoke

Many college students may worry that if their kitchen becomes too smoky from cooking it will set off their sprinkler system. This is not true. Fire sprinklers react to heat, not smoke. Residential sprinklers go off at 155 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much hotter than a slightly burnt microwavable food. However, students who are beginners at cooking should probably use a fan and open a window to prevent the smoke alarm from going off. It will lead to fewer fire alarms and much, much happier neighbors.

Not all heads react at once

This is a common myth that Hollywood perpetuates, and it is one we work hard to dispel. On the off chance that a sprinkler head in a dorm does go off, the whole building’s will not go off with it. This only occurs with deluge systems. Such systems are only used at highly flammable industrial areas, not college campuses.

Dry systems prevent pipes from busting

Many students may see the potential of a pipe burst as being something that outweighs the benefit of a fire sprinkler system. The truth is that in colder climates, many sprinkler contractors install what are known as dry systems, meaning that no water is kept in the pipes. It is only during a fire that water is pushed through the pipes and out the sprinkler head. Moreover, buildings with wet systems—that is systems with the water in the pipes—are heated above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, ensuring that the water does not dip below the freezing level.

Smoke detectors alert, fire sprinklers save

The important role smoke detectors have in alerting occupants of a potential fire cannot be overstated. However, the sad reality is that many college students become so accustomed to smoke alarms going off constantly, that they sleep through them or just stay inside. Smoke detectors alert us to the presence of a fire, but a fire sprinkler contains or extinguishes a fire, saving the building and those who cannot leave quickly.

For College Safety, Don’t Lose Sight of the Bigger Picture

As anyone who attended college may know, the sound of fire alarms across campus is a common staple. It is hard for many students to see the importance of fire safety, especially when they are made to stand outside (sometimes twice a day) at odd hours when someone’s microwavable burrito sets off the smoke detector. With smoke alarms being so prevalent, many students may choose to stay in the building, putting them and first responders at risk. While this is no doubt shocking and not recommended, many parents can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their son or daughter is protected by a fire sprinkler system.


This article was created as a collaboration between Phoenix Society, the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, and the PenJerDel NFSA chapter. To learn more about residential fire sprinklers, call 866-226-6006 or visit

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