“Sprinkler Systems Have Had a Long, Strange Trip” by Ronny J. Coleman


The article “Sprinkler Systems Have Had a Long, Strange Trip” by Ronny J. Coleman briefly explores the history of fire protection systems in the United States. The article was published in the journal Fire Chief in 2008. In this article, the author explores a time period from the end of the 18th century to the present day. Coleman investigates the progression in the development of fire sprinkler systems and the evolution of NFPA documents (37).

Furthermore, he speculates about the future and possible changes in the industry, drawing parallels between the way sprinkler systems have been evolving and a “religious pilgrimage” (Coleman 37). While the author has first-hand experience in the field of fire service and thus has comprehensive knowledge of the system’s inner workings, this article, if treated as a research paper, has some weak points in its logical structure and research data. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate whether this particular article follows all of the principles of conducting good research.

Statement of the Research Problem

The main topic of the article is the history of the sprinkler system. The author portrays the evolution of the fire protection devices as a long journey that requires significant effort and time from the travelers (Coleman 34). However, the main research problem of the article is not flushed out. It is unclear to the reader whether the author focuses on the historical part of the research, providing facts and dates for particular historical events, or wants to draw a conclusion on the basis of these facts that will give the readers an insight into future developments. The comparison to pilgrimage is also unclear.

On the one hand, it describes the history of sprinklers as a one-way journey that “involves sacrifices and commitment” (Coleman 34). On the other hand, the author changes the angle to depict the reader’s hometown as a sacred place that needs protection and the journey itself as a process of agreeing and disagreeing with the documents involving sprinkler systems.

Description of Research Procedures

The author relies on a number of research techniques to gather information for this article. First of all, Coleman presents various historical events and time periods based on his knowledge (35). While presenting information, he does not mention the sources. In addition, he does not provide any specific dates, limiting the scope of time to decades and presenting historical findings as stories, rather than facts.

Although the progression of his research is continuous and consistent time wise, there is no evidence to support it. Secondly, he expresses the opinions of other groups of people vaguely, without giving any names or only briefly explaining the background of a speaker (Coleman 37). It is commonly known, that every argument has to be supported by evidence (Thorne 60). By discounting the importance of supporting evidence, Coleman loses the reliability of his statements (37). After finishing this article, the reader gathers no information on the sources for further reading or reference.

Flaws in the Procedural Design

The constrained view of the main topic leads to a significant number of speculations from the author. Coleman even directly states, while discussing the creation of National Fire Protection Association, that he abstained from reading the related documents (34). However, he then proceeds to make an assumption about the contents of these documents, which can result in a misrepresentation of the original source. Another example of untrustworthy evidence is the author’s discussion of the NFPA 13 system (Coleman 37). He assures the reader that the aforementioned system drew a lot of controversy from the community while giving no explanation to the possible reasons the people would be for or against the system. While the overall picture may be presented correctly, the given information does not give the reader an understanding of the situation.

Analysis of the Data

The facts provided by Coleman in this article are approximate, but they can be supported by evidence (34). Some of the author’s opinions and conclusions, on the other hand, may seem confusing, and the author does not pay much attention to analyzing the provided data. While the author’s description of the NFPA 13D and 13R documents can be proven by using other sources, the supposed controversy raised by these documents stays groundless (Coleman 37; Gagnon 29).

For example, in the book Fire Protection Systems, Jones writes about the history of the aforementioned documents, providing required references and supporting the facts with evidence (202). Indeed, the years of the creation of the NFPA 13 standards align, as Jones states that the NFPA 13D standard was written in 1975 (202), and Coleman estimates this happening in the beginning of 1970s (24). Jones’s book does not mention the assumed controversy, only remarking that every new edition of the NFPA standard was revised according to the time period (202). Having a background in the fire service, Coleman could have been a first-hand witness to this situation. However, in research, such statements will bear more weight if supported by multiple opinions (Thorne 91).

Limited and Justifiable Conclusions

Coleman makes various conclusions at the end of the article (37). First of all, the author returns to his comparison of the sprinkler systems development and a pilgrimage (Coleman 37). Changing his direction, the author closes the article with an unrelated point, saying that one’s hometown is the place where one can make changes possible. This statement, while possibly being true on a bigger scale, has no connection to the rest of the text, and as such cannot be treated as a justifiable conclusion. Secondly, Coleman once again mentions his parallel in another context, as he infers that a new generation will also be indecisive on the topic of standards and regulations of the sprinkler systems (37).

This conclusion is also limited, as Coleman did not provide any evidence of shifts in the minds of the current generation (37). The only logical conclusion made by the author is the statement that the regulations of the sprinkler systems will continue to change.


The article “Sprinkler Systems Have Had a Long, Strange Trip” cannot be considered an example of sound research. While the structure of the article is logical, as it follows the historical process quite closely, the abundance of unsupported statements makes the author’s point of view seem biased and unreliable. With the help of other sources, it is possible to prove that the author did not make any crucial mistakes.

However, one of the main requirements of a research paper is its ability to be viewed as a self-sustained product. Furthermore, the analogies provided by the author are unclear both in their meaning and their relation to the topic. Such parallels, instead of making a complex topic understandable and relatable, only distract the reader from the main research problem. That is why, the article loses its credibility as a research paper, although the author did not make any factual mistakes.

Works Cited

Coleman, Ronny J. “Sprinkler Systems Have Had a Long, Strange Trip.” Fire Chief, vol. 52. no. 1, 2008, pp. 34-37.

Gagnon, Robert M. Design of Special Hazard and Fire Alarm Systems. 2nd ed., Delmar Learning, 2007.

Jones, Maurice. Fire Protection Systems. 2nd ed., Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2016.

Thorne, Sally. Interpretive Description: Qualitative Research for Applied Practice. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2016.

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