Automatic Water Suppression Systems

Fires in industrial and commercial premises can have a serious impact on both the national and local economy. A simple solution is to install an Automatic Water Suppression System (sprinkler system).

Automatic Water Suppression System is a well-established technology, demonstrating their effectiveness at protecting life and property in a variety of building types over many years.


For over a century, Automatic Water Suppression Systems installations have been successfully safeguarding commercial buildings:

  • They are a combined fire detection and extinguishing system
  • They provide continuous protection throughout the day and night, irrespective of whether or not the premises are occupied

Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service is committed to increasing the number of Automatic Water Suppression Systems in 'at risk' premises, in newly built schools and in residential care premises. We are working with the Residential Sprinkler Association, National Fire Sprinkler Network, local councils, social care services, landlords, architects, construction companies and others to achieve this.

Automatic Water Suppression Systems

  • Save lives
  • Protect people who are in the room where the fire starts
  • Deal with fires when they are small and more easily controllable
  • Limit the production of smoke and fumes
  • Drastically reduce the damage caused by a fire and therefore minimise the disruption and time taken to achieve business continuity
  • Generally, a AWSS for a new property would only amount to one to two per cent of the total build cost
  • Cost very little to maintain
  • Control / extinguish 99% of fires
  • Control 60% of fires using four AWSS heads or less
  • The protection they offer can reduce the need for other fire safety measures
  • They bring about financial benefits, resulting from insurance premium reductions
  • Operation of an AWSS will rapidly control a fire, raise the alarm and reduce the rate of production of heat and smoke, allowing time for occupants to escape
  • Significant reduction in property loss

The facts

  • Environmental friendliness
    • Help to protect the environment by controlling a fire in its early stages, preventing airborne and water run-off pollution
  • They save water
    • Statistics show that widespread use of an AWSS could save up to 96 per cent of the 5.6 billion litres of water used annually in the UK to fight large fires - this is equivalent to three months' supply of water for the entire population of a city the size of Leeds
  • Building design flexibility
    • Can save on building costs because under Building Regulations larger compartment sizes may be constructed
    • Reduced boundary and extended distances to fire exists are also permitted
  • Legal protection
    • Owner / occupiers / employers can be held legally responsible for the consequences of a fire if adequate fire precautions have not been taken
    • Protect the lives of firefighters and are fully supported by fire services
    • Reliability
    • AWSS have been proven in use for well over 100 years, during which time they have a 99% success rate worldwide
    • systems over 100 years old are still in full working order today
  • Life safety record
    • In the UK there has never been a fire death in a building with a fully maintained AWSS
  • Save money
    • Losses from fires in buildings with an AWSS are estimated to be only one tenth of those in unprotected buildings
  • Limit water damage
    • Firefighters often use 20 times more water from hoses to do the same job as a AWSS - in tackling the Windsor Castle fire seven million litres of water was used
  • Cost-effective to install
    • The cost of installing a AWSS is roughly equivalent to carpeting the same building
    • All the UK royal palaces could have AWSS installed for the cost of the Windsor Castle fire
  • Insurance discounts
    • Insurance companies can offer large discounts for buildings that are protected by an AWSS.

The myths

  • When there is a fire all the AWSS heads go off at once
    • Each head is independent and only the head(s) adjacent to the fire go off.
  • Water damage is as bad as the fire damage
    • A typical AWSS discharges 55 litres per minute - a firefighting hose discharges over 600 litres per minute - you can expect an AWSS to discharge less than five per cent of the water used by the fire service
  • Can go off accidentally
    • Records show that the chance of an accidental discharge from a AWSS is in the region of 16 million to one
  • Automatic Water Suppression System are expensive
    • It is estimated that the costs of a AWSS can be recovered over a period of about 10 years
    • This is achieved through reduced insurance premiums and in larger organisations through less disruption to business continuity when a fire occurs
    • Installed in a new building, an AWSS should not cost more than 1% to 2% of the total build cost.

The Chief Fire Officers Association has produced A Guide to Automatic Water Suppression Systems (AWSS) and Their Practical Application (pdf format, 1.7Mb) to promote the use of such systems and dispel some myths such as those mentioned above.