If you care to take the time, you can cast your gaze toward the ceiling and in most commercial buildings you’ll find us. How long have we been here? We are one of the first systems to go into a building. Sure you’ll find the others there as well in the early days. HVAC, electrical, plumbing, they all come early too, but they don’t cover the place like us. We need to have heads all throughout, you know. If called upon we want to be able to reach out and touch you. You’re never far from a sprinkler head, they say (it’s an old saying, but there is often truth in these colloquial turns of phrase).
Mostly we go unnoticed, people rarely give us a second thought, or a first thought for that matter. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a glorious personality like the lights, who make their presence known daily. Those flashy fellows turn on easily, but will quickly turn off too and are prone to burnout, possibly because of their constant need for attention. Nor are we sought after like the electrical outlets. Never has a student in a coffee shop got down on their hands and knees to exclaim, “Perfect, there’s a sprinkler right here behind the table!” Sure, outlets are steadfast and powerful but they are few in number and can’t be counted upon when things go awry. Then there is good old Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning, with its catchy nickname and massive ducts. Old HVAC finds its way into the conversation all the time. “Nice and cool in here,” one might comment.”It’s good to be in here instead of out in that cold,” a sage voice may remark.
Rarely do our little heads, the points of discharge for water-filled black pipes, make their way into the hearts and minds of those they serve. Oh, certainly in the aftermath of a blaze, a fellow soldier in the battle against the destructive power of the flame, one of those dashing fellows in fire retardant regalia, might thoughtfully muse, “It would have been worse without the sprinklers.” This solidarity is appreciated by those that continue to stand watch, but is cold comfort to the fallen.
To my fellow fire protection comrades, I say this: remember always that ours is an existence of waiting and watching. We remain ever-vigilant day and night against the ever-present threat of fire. If it is an unsung hero these buildings need, then we sprinkler heads are prepared to fill that role. We are willing to stand in the shadows until the heat rises and the bells ring out. For when the smoke clears, and light shines upon a soot streaked interior we will be satisfied knowing that when called we were ready to pour out our hearts.
To you, the person enjoying a coffee, an interesting class, or a walk though a big box store I say: thank you for not smoking.