Sprinkler systems – a missed opportunity for fire protection in social housing

Ms Nargess Ghassempour1, Dr Kathy Tannous1,3, Dr Gulay Avsar1, Dr Kingsley Agho3,4, Dr Lara Harvey5,6

1Western Sydney University, Parramatta, Australia, 2Rozetta Institute, The Rocks, Australia, 3Translational Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University,, Campbelltown, Australia, 4School of Health Sciences, Western Sydney University, Penrith, Australia, 5Fall, Balance and Injury Research Centre, Neuroscience Research Australia, Randwick, Australia, 6 School of Population Health, University of New South Wales, Kensington, Australia


Social housing is short or long-term rental accommodation for people on low incomes, especially those who have recently experienced domestic violence, homelessness or who have special needs.  In Australia, there are over 436,000 social housing dwellings of which 34% are located in New South Wales.  There are approximately 7,000 residential fires causing 1,000 hospitalisations annually in NSW. This study aimed to determine the health impact of residential fires in social housing and to examine sprinklers as a protective factor.

This population-based study used linked data from Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW), health data (ambulance, hospital, emergency department, burn outpatient clinic) and mortality records during 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2014, and included health service utilisation within 14 days from the fire incident.

There were 43,707 residential fire incidents reported to FRNSW and 5,073 (11.6%) occurred in social housing dwellings. Residential fires that required health services occurred more likely in social housing dwellings (OR 1.2;95%CI 0.0-0.3,p=0.0106) and were more likely where sprinkler systems were not present (OR 2.9;95%CI 0.5-1.7,p=0.0005).

Of the 100 hospitalisations among social housing residents, 99 were in residences without sprinklers. Main reasons for hospitalisation were mental health issues (29.3%), smoke inhalation (26.3%), burns (23.2%) and other injuries (21.2%). The average cost per index hospitalization for burns and smoke inhalation was AUD$9,806, with a total estimated cost of AUD$382,452.

Living in social housing dwellings increases the risk of residential fire incidents and provision of sprinklers in social housing has the potential to significantly reduce the burden of injury.


Nargess Ghassempour is a PhD student from Western Sydney University with a focus on risk factors associated with residential fire incidents as well as health impact and economic cost of health utilisation services. Nargess holds a bachelor’s degree (honours) in Electrical engineering from Western Sydney University and in her previous research she adopted image processing and machine learning techniques to detect fire in images.

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