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Fire sprinkler systems were developed to protect buildings from fire by producing a discharge of water. The sprinkler piping is usually run near the ceiling directing the water down on the flames.

The first automatic sprinkler system was created in England in the early 1800s. It was made up of a pipe with several valves held closed by counterweights attached by string. When flames burned through the string the counterweight dropped to the floor, which opened the valve that released the water and extinguished the fire.

Manually operated systems were developed around the turn of the nineteenth century as well. Manual systems consisted of a number of perforated pipes fed by a main riser, which was activated from an adjacent area. Manual systems were effective at dousing fires. However, water damage to the building and the contents not effected by the flames were often more costly than the fire damage.

The Parmelee sprinkler head developed in the United States, in the 1870s, provided a way to control which heads discharged water. The newly designed head incorporated a heat-sensing device that only opened the valve when a predetermined temperature was reached. The heat of the flames activated specific heads, leaving areas unaffected by the fire dry. Modern sprinkler heads use a bulb containing chemicals or a fusible link, that breaks at around 160° F, opening the valve, releasing the water.

From the days when fire sprinklers randomly sprayed water to systems that can regulate the discharge covering an area of a few square feet, automatic fire sprinkler systems protect property saving millions of dollars annually. Most importantly they save lives!