As floods go, this one wasn't too bad: just one busted sprinkler head that soaked some books and carpeting. The Beaufort Gazette and the Hilton Head Island Packet have this report: ("Fire sprinkler breaks, ruins books at Hilton Head library," by Zach Murdock). "The sprinkler was in the Friends of the Library bookshop, which had more than 3,500 books. The Friends sell donated books to raise money for the Hilton Head branch. The entire bookshop flooded, along with parts of the community room, main entrance and entrance to the children's library, branch manager Mary Jo Berkes said. Firefighters arrived at 6:33 a.m. to find the bookshop filled with several feet of water, Berkes said. The bookshop's door was watertight. 'The firemen said it looked like an aquarium,' she said."

During the fire investigation, authorities learned that the broken sprinkler head was a model that had been recalled by the manufacturer in 2001, the Island Packet reports: ("Sprinkler that doused Hilton Head library being investigated for possible recall," and "Hilton Head library only county-owned building with recalled fire sprinkler parts," by Zach Murdock). According to a report by Beaufort County facilities director Mark Roseneau, "According to the report, the 220 fire sprinklers in the library are a model that was part of a voluntary recall issued by Central Sprinkler Co. in July 2001 and should be replaced," the paper reports. "The sprinkler heads in the library are among nearly 50 types of heads recalled by Central Sprinkler Co. because faulty rubber O-ring seals could corrode, preventing the sprinklers from activating during a fire, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission." A follow-on investigation found no other cases where the faulty sprinkler heads remained installed in county buildings.

The library's insurance policy will cover the water damage losses, the Island Packet reported ("Insurance to pay for Hilton Head library damage from broken fire sprinkler," by Zach Murdock). In the meantime, however, the Friends of the Library bookstore, a major source of library funding, is out of business—which could put a damper on the library's finances.

Public and commercial entities such as libraries and bookstores carry different insurance than homeowners have. What would happen if a sprinkler head deployed accidentally in a house? Florida-based insurance adjuster Dick Tutwiler says, "The short answer is that a water loss from a broken pipe or a sprinkler head should be covered in a homeowner's policy."

But restrictions could apply, Tutwiler warns: "What they are doing down here is allowing the industry to put in 14-day water damage exclusions in homeowner's policies. So if the insurance adjuster says your water loss is over 14 days old, no coverage! Very bad news for our winter snow birds who own real estate in Florida and are only here part-time." Also, says Tutwiler, policies may place a $10,000 cap on water damage. "That's not even a drop in the bucket for a house that is flooded from a broken pipe," he says.

Most houses don't have sprinklers anyway. But for those that do, there's a way to prepare for a sprinkler head break, or even to shut off the water after the sprinkler puts out a fire. JLC and Coastal Connection have not evaluated this tool, but at first glance it looks promising: the Quickstop Residential Fire Sprinkler Kit is a small inflatable balloon that can be inserted into the sprinkler head supply pipe, then inflated with an air syringe. The balloon blocks the head temporarily, while allowing other heads in the system to stay pressurized and ready. And if flames return, Quickstop says, the plastic balloon will melt from the heat and let the sprinkler douse the fire again.