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A Sprinkling of Truth

First Episode of New ‘Ask an Engineer’ Video Series Separates Fire Sprinkler System Fact From Fiction

By A. James Clark School of Engineering Staff

You probably see them every day—in fact, one may be hanging over your head right now—but have you ever wondered how fire sprinkler systems actually work? Here’s a hint: TV and film scenes of sprinklers cutting loose because of a burned dinner, ruining romantic moments or helping a hero in a tricky situation are not the place to turn for answers.

In the inaugural episode of the A. James Clark School of Engineering’s new “Ask an Engineer” video series, University of Maryland Clinical Professor of Fire Protection Engineering Kenneth Isman points out how “Mean Girls,” “Stranger Things,” “The Incredibles” use Hollywood magic  to transmogrify the systems into handy—but not exactly accurate—plot devices.

“They give the public a real incorrect image about the way fire protection systems, and mostly fire sprinkler systems, work,” he said.

But one film got it right, he said. In the 1996 action flick “Eraser,” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character uses a gun to shoot out a fire sprinkler in order to get water to flow. This sets off a water flow alarm that prompts people to evacuate a building. The alarm also triggers a locked door to open, so he can escape. “That is very realistic,” Isman said.

To learn more about this topic and future “Ask an Engineer” videos, visit Maryland Engineering’s YouTube channel.



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