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2010

 

As reported in Leesburg Today the Virginia Board of Housing and Community Development (BHCD) will cast its final vote today on amendments to the building code that includes removing the home fire sprinkler requirement. Homebuilders have lobbied strongly against the requirement on the idea that new homes are safer homes, that sprinklers are expensive and not worth the return on investment, and that a fire extinguisher in every kitchen is all that is needed.  


 

Although NFPA statistics point to cooking equipment as the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries, smoking materials are the leading causes of home fire deaths. Roughly half of all home fire deaths result from incidents reported between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., when people will be sleeping. Twenty-four percent of all home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the bedroom; 23% resulted from fires originating in the living room, family room, or den. NFPA statistics also reveal that over 40% of people injured in fires were attempting to fight the fire or rescue someone else.


While the use of a fire extinguisher by a trained individual on an incipient fire may be beneficial, the mandated requirement of a fire extinguisher in the kitchen is not an acceptable alternative to home fire sprinklers. NFPA went on record in VA as opposing this code change amendment recommended by homebuilders. It remains to be seen if fallacy and profits trump proven research and life safety arguments.


 

Coincidentally today I reported here about a fire in VA Beach, VA that severely damaged three homes built in 2006. What is it going to take? Home fire sprinkler advocates will continue to ask this question. Will politicians and bureaucrats continue to be swayed by the "new homes are safer homes" fallacy? Let's hope that the VA BHCD will make the right decision today.

A fire that started in a single family home spread to two neighboring houses causing extensive damage to all three as reported in FirefighterCloseCalls.com. According to sources these homes were built in 2006 and were not protected by fire sprinklers.

"You never think it's going to happen to you"; the homeowner was quoted as saying in the article. Homeowners mistakenly believe that because they live in a new home they are immune to the ravages of fire. The "new homes are safer homes" mantra is so often repeated by those opposed to home fire sprinkler requirements. However, NFPA statistics reveal that the age of the home is not a valid predictor of fire death, injury, or property loss.

I covered the issue of new homes in a previous blog posting about a fire in a new home that coincidentally also ocurred in VA. Lightweight construction may pose a greater hazard to occupants and firefighters because it has a tendency to catastrophically collapse when exposed to fire. The furnishings that are in homes today that also increase the risk. 

According to Steve Kerber, Fire Protection Engineer at Underwriter Laboratories (UL) todays' residential fire environment poses a greater risk. Twenty years ago most materials used in home furnishings came from natural fibers. People had up to 17 minutes to escape a fire, todays' furnishings and possessions made of synthetics and plastics will provide fast fuel and highly toxic smoke and gases. Steve says that one upholstered chair today creates enough energy to bring a room to flashover in 4-5 minutes.

Home fire sprinkler advocates need to arm themselves with this kind of information and educate the community and policy makers if we are ever going to put an end to the fallacy of "new homes are safer homes" argument.

Maria Figueroa

Despite heavy pushback from homebuilders and realtors, St. Charles, IL aldermen approved an ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in all one- and two-family homes and townhomes by a 6-2 vote.

The Northern Illinois Sprinkler Coalition worked feverishly to educate the council and rebut the misleading arguments presented by the opposition.

The requirement goes into effect Januray 1, 2012. In the meantime a "mandatory option" will be implemented. Builders will have to offer buyers the option of installing fire sprinkler systems in their homes.

It remains to be seen how effective a "mandatory option" is when the builder offering the option is so vehemently opposed to home fire sprinklers. This option may only have an opportunity to suceed if it is accompanied by requirements to limit the profit margin on the option and mandates the distribution of objective educational literature for consumers, such as the material available from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

If builders are allowed to jack up the cost of the sprinkler system when it is offered to homebuyers and are able to quote whatever price they assign to the systems, making them unaffordable, this will have a chilling effect on the decision of buyers to opt for the systems. It is like asking the fox to watch the hen house. According to an article in the Kane County Chronicle, homebuilder John Hall was quoted as saying; “If we can put a program together that is effective in rescinding [the mandate] then it’s a good thing...that’s the ultimate goal.”

Home fire sprinkler opponents need to continue to work hard to increase community awareness on the importance of home fire sprinkler systems. Keep up the good fight!

Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter The July issue of Fire Sprinkler Initiative Update, our monthly e-newsletter, has hit the streets. (Read the issue or subscribe today - it's easy and free!)

In this issue, we feature a new NFPA "Safety Alert" that recommends that residential fire sprinkler systems containing antifreeze be drained and that the antifreeze replaced with water. We've also teamed up with the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition to honor a fire chief who is working to promote home fire sprinklers in his/her community, and provide 10 tips on how to communicate with local lawmakers when advocating for fire sprinklers.

- Mike Hazell

The July/August 2010 issue of NFPA Journal features the story of a mothers' quest to make her new home safe for her disabled daughter.

Disabilities_230x300x1http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef0133f23bedbe970b-pi


Despite many obstacles, Uttauna Leap made sure she included fire sprinklers in the design of her new home. The story quotes Mrs. Leap: "I was frugal with a lot of things, but sprinklers were a must," says Leap, 41, a divorced Realtor. "They weren’t optional. People would rather have fancy countertops in their kitchens than [safeguards] to protect the ones they love. Lianna has made the world very clear to me — what is important, and what is not."

Click here to read the entire article.


David Kurasz, Executive Director of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board wrote a letter that appeared on pressofAtlanticCity.com encouraging folks to contact their legislators to find out why the state is taking so long to adopt the residential fire sprinkler requirement. The letter has been picked up by at least one more media site MyCentralJersey.com

Citing a recent fire in which an elderly woman and her dog died, he ponders why this life-safety regulation is being held up despite the approval of the NJ State Code Advisory Board, the Department of Community Affairs, and Governor Chris Christie's own Red Tape Review Commission.

Notice to adopt the 2009 I-Codes, including the one- and two-family sprinkler provisions, were signed off and delivered to the Office of Administrative Law to be published in the New Jersey Registry back in February, 2010, where it sat awaiting an executive decision by the governor.

Shortly thereafter Governor Christie issued an executive order freezing and suspending all administrative rules for 90 days.The home fire sprinkler requirement was included in this moratorium althought the order makes it clear that it must not apply to matters that “adversely impact public safety or security". This was covered here in a previous post titled "New Jersey home fire sprinkler requirement caught up in "red tape"

In March 2010, I posted "A perspective on home fire sprinkler regulation freeze in New Jersey" where Mr. Kurasz implied that "there are special interests at work" in the delay.

Is there something fishy going on in the Jersey Shore? Let's hope not.

A story in the Baltimore Sun informs that the Baltimore County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to add fire sprinkler requirements in one- and two-family homes to the building code. The change becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2011.

Outrageous claims by homebuilders that the systems can cost as much as $10 per square foot are easily refuted in a county that has required sprinklers in townhomes and multifamily dwellings for nearly 20 years. 

The State of Maryland, under the leadership of State Fire Marshal William E. Barnard, has been on the forefront of home fire sprinkler requirements.  

Maria Figueroa


 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued a safety alert recommending that residential fire sprinkler systems containing antifreeze should be drained and the antifreeze replaced with water. The alert follows a research study and an initial set of fire tests conducted after a fire incident raised concerns about antifreeze solutions in residential sprinkler systems. The incident involved a grease fire in a kitchen where a sprinkler with a high concentration of antifreeze deployed. The fire resulted in a single fatality and serious injury to another person.

"Fire sprinklers are one of the most effective ways to save lives and property from fire,” said James M. Shannon, president of NFPA. “Until we can provide further information based on additional research that is currently underway, we are urging the public to continue the use of sprinklers but to follow our interim safety guidelines by removing antifreeze if it is in their sprinkler systems."

According to NFPA, the home is the place where most fire fatalities occur, and when home sprinklers are present, the risk of dying in a home fire decreases by 83%.

The full press release is available on NFPA's website.

NFPA offered the following interim guidance on residential sprinklers:

Fire sprinklers are extremely effective fire protection devices, significantly reducing deaths, injuries and property loss from fire.

These systems should not be disconnected.

Until the results of further testing on antifreeze are available, NFPA recommends the following:

  • If you have, or are responsible for, a residential occupancy with a fire sprinkler system, contact a sprinkler contractor to check and see if there is antifreeze in the system.
  • If there is antifreeze in the system, as an interim measure, drain the system and replace it with water only. Problems associated with freezing of sprinkler pipes can be mitigated by alternative measures such as insulation. NFPA hopes to provide further guidance based on additional testing before the winter freezing months.
  • If you are putting in a new residential sprinkler system, design and install a system that does not require antifreeze.

“We are providing this safety alert as interim guidance based on the information we have right now,” said Shannon. “As soon as more information is available, we will update the public.”

NFPA also reminded the public about basic fire safety tips for kitchen fires. All consumers should take important fire safety precautions regarding kitchen fires.

  • Have and maintain smoke alarms in your home.
  • Pay attention when you are cooking.
  • Should you have a grease fire on your stovetop, smother the fire by sliding a lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until the pan cools completely.
  • Never put water on a grease fire or use a fire extinguisher on a grease fire.
  • Never attempt to carry a flaming pan across the kitchen.

The NFPA Safety Alert Regarding Antifreeze in Residential Sprinklers and more information on this topic can be found at http://www.nfpa.org/antifreeze.

- Lorraine Carli

On June 28th the Bonney Lake-Sumner Courier Herald reported that all new residential construction in the city of Bonney Lake, WA will have to include a fire sprinkler system. According to the article, the city council passed the new ordinance by a vote of 6-1, with councilmember Mark Hamilton as the lone dissenting vote.

The article quotes councilmember Hamilton as saying that he was opposed; "because it would set the city of Bonney Lake apart from all other municipalities in the fire district, potentially making Bonney Lake less attractive to builders by adding the additional cost of sprinklers." This argument has been refuted by the NFPA study Comparative Analysis of Housing Cost and Supply Impacts of Sprinkler Ordinances at the Community Level. The study concluded that "the analysis...consistently indicated an absence of adverse impacts on housing supply and costs from the implementation of residential sprinkler requirements." In one of the communities studied, the opposite was true; there was an increase in building permits, when compared to the neighboring community without a mandate.

The State of Washington did not adopt the 2009 IRC, which included the home fire sprinkler requirement. However, the Washington Sprinkler Coalition http://nfpa.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8351b9f3453ef0133f2146033970b-pi(led by Captain Greg Rogers of South Kitsap Fire and Rescue and supported by NFPA) was able to convince the WA Building Code Council to allow local jurisdictions to adopt such requirements for all new homes without its approval; facilitating the ability of locals to require fire sprinklers in all new homes. The push to adopt at the local level is ongoing.

WA sprinkler coalition

Maria Figueroa

NFPA joined the Texas State Fire Marshals Office, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, the Austin Fire Department, and many other fire safety organizations in an event that took place on Saturday, July 3rd, 2010 in Austin, TX.

FourthofJulyBurn 008Left to right: Public Education Kim O’Malley, Fire Prevention Regional Manager Maria Figueroa, and Southern Regional Manager Randy Safer.

The event included a live burn side-by-side demonstration that took place in the parking lot across from the front entrance to the museum at 1:00 p.m. More than 200 people attended the demonstration, and a free admission fire-safety exhibit on the museum’s third floor; from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. NFPA was present to support the event and to distribute important fire safety information to all participants.

State fire marshal Paul Maldonado made it a point to inform all present that the governor's mansion, which was felled by an arson fire last year, will be built with fire sprinklers. He explained the importance of having fire sprinklers in all new homes, in addition to smoke alarms and a fire escape plan.

Participants

It was a great event that made an impact on all present and provided needed awareness to families with children. This kind of activity is important to obtain community support for home fire sprinkler requirements. Families with children are powerful advocates and we need to reach them wherever they may be. If you're interested in hosting a side-by-side burn in your community, the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition offers a detailed guide on how to conduct a successful event.

Maria Figueroa

Baltimore, MD became the largest US city to pass a zero sq. ft. home fire sprinkler requirement in all residential properties. According to a press release issued by the Mayor's Office, dated June 24th, "Mayor Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined Council President Bernard Jack Young, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (District-14), Councilman Warren Branch (District-13) and Fire Chief James Clack to sign into law City Council Bill 10-0437, Residential Code - Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems."

Residential fire sprinklers have been saving lives across Maryland since the early 1990's. There have been no reported fire deaths in fire sprinklered properties. More than half of Maryland’s municipalities and nine counties have adopted similar requirements for one and two-family homes. They have paved the way for others in the state to follow. Prince George’s County has been a model, and published a report demonstrating the positive impact that home fire sprinkler adoption has had on its community.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development completed its adoption process of the 2009 IRC, requiring fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes and townhomes, with an effective date of January 1, 2011, allowing local jurisdiction to adopt or modify the code. However, with this move, Baltimore takes the lead by requiring fire sprinkler in all new homes beginning July 1, 2010.

Maria Figueroa

The nonprofit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) and NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative have teamed up with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) to recognize outstanding local efforts to increase the installation of residential fire sprinkler systems.


The award, to be presented by IAFC’s Fire and Life Safety Section at Fire Rescue International in Chicago this August, was designed to honor a fire chief who uses the HFSC's educational materials and NFPA’s FireSprinklerInitiative.org resources to educate and ensure that decision-makers have information to upgrade or pass new residential fire sprinkler legislation at the local level.


 

Note: you must be a member of IAFC to nominate a fire chief for this award. See more details and download a nomination form. <span style="COLOR: #c00000; FONT-FAMILY: ">Hurry!</span> Nominations are due by July 23, 2010.

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