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Tale of two fires

Posted by lorrainecarli Employee Mar 30, 2011

Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation joined the chorus of those pointing out the irony of what is happening right now in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania -- people dying in home fires while at the same time the House voting to remove the provision to require fire sprinklers in new homes. The provision, which would went into effect January 1, 2011, follows all model codes in requiring home fire sprinklers in new one and two family homes but is now being threatened by HB 377, a bill that will come before the Senate in the next couple of weeks.

Writing in the Centre Daily in State College PA, Siarnicki compares the fire in Perry County where seven children dies in a home fire with a fire in a home in Montgomery County, MD that occurred the same day. In the Maryland home, a fire that began in the laundry room was contained by a residential sprinkler. No one was hurt and there was very little damage.

NFPA also weighed in this week in Pennsylvania with an ad that echoes Ron's sentiments.


I attended the Triangle Waist Company 100th anniversary memorial in New York last Friday. As I listened to each speaker, I thought about where we are today in regards to fire safety and what is left to be done.

One hundred years ago, March 25, 1911, 146 people died when the Triangle in lower Manhattan caught fire just before the workers who were mostly young women were about to leave for home.  Many of them died jumping from the ninth floor where the fire had started because their bosses had locked the doors to keep them from leaving with scraps of material.

The Triangle Fire became the catalyst for the adoption of a whole host of workplace safety reforms in New York spearheaded in the legislature by Assembly Speaker Alfred E. Smith and Senate President Robert Wagner and shaped by Frances Perkins, who served as the Executive Secretary of the Committee on Safety of the City of New York which developed the worker safety proposals.  Most of these changes were obvious reforms like putting sprinklers in factories and requiring that exit doors swing out.  Their efforts to improve worker safety after the fire established their reputations as reformers.  Smith went on to become Governor of New York and the Democratic Party’s nominee for President in 1928.  Wagner became a celebrated member of the United States Senate and champion of labor rights. Perkins became Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor.  In fact, Perkins used to say that the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was “the day the New Deal began.” March_april_cover_110x145

But, March 25, 1911, was not just a crucial day in American labor history.  The Triangle Fire created a whole new awareness in America about the horrible human costs of all fires in the United States, and it spurred public education campaigns, code improvements and technical advances to reduce deaths, injuries and property losses from fire that continue to this day.

In 1913, Perkins came to the meeting of the National Fire Protection Association and challenged the Boston based group to carry the lessons learned in the Triangle Fire to the rest of the country.  That challenge led directly to the development of an Exits Code to require that adequate means of egress be established for factories and other public buildings.  Over subsequent years other codes were developed to improve building materials and require sprinklers in more buildings including apartment buildings and places of public assembly.

Requiring smoke alarms in homes has been a tremendous lifesaving advance.  In just the last thirty years we have seen the number of people who die in fires in the United States decline from about 8,000 to around 3,000.  In the last decade, all fifty states have continued the tradition of progress begun in 1911 by passing legislation that require self-extinguishing cigarettes.  Smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in America and this simple change in the way cigarettes are manufactured, once fully implemented, will save hundreds of lives every year, many of them children, who would otherwise die in home fires caused by smoking.

But even with all of the progress made in fire safety over the last century, the United States has one of the worst fire death rates in the developed world.  New measures will be necessary if we are to continue to reduce deaths and injuries from fire.  The next logical step is to put fire sprinklers in all newly constructed one- and two-family homes.  The major national code organizations have already made this change in their model codes and California became the first state to pass a law requiring home fire sprinklers in all new homes.  If the others states follow that lead, countless lives will be saved.

Pennsylvania joined California in requiring fire sprinklers in new homes effective January of this year. That life-saving move is now being threatened.  

HB 377, which is currently before the Senate, prohibits the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry from implementing updated model safety codes calling for fire sprinklers in new homes. Passage of this bill would eliminate the state’s ability to establish a fundamental level of protection for families and firefighters.

One-hundred years after one of the most horrific fires in American history, we need politicians to show the same leadership that people like Smith, Wagner and Perkins showed back then.  With sprinklers, we have the technology that could virtually eliminate fire deaths in this country over the next century.  Let us hope that we have leaders with the courage to make that happen.

Jim Shannon

Curtis Alleman, the south central director of the Firemen's Association of Pennsylvania, and first vice president of Cumberland County Volunteer Fireman's Association came out strong against the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in an a piece he wrote for the Public Opinion in Chambersburg,PA. This month the House voted to repeal a new code requirment for fire sprinklers in new home construction.Alleman makes all the critical points in support of sprinklers -- they are affordable, they are effective, and most of all they save lives. He closes with an important question, "How many more lives need to be lost before our elected officials will see that sprinklers are the most effective way to save lives?" You can read the full opinion piece on the paper's website.

Lorraine Carli

An article in Fire Engineering informs that the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation have selected the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) as the recipient of the 2011 Senator Paul S. Sarbanes Fire Service Safety Leadership Award.

The award will be presented at the 23rd Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner on April 7, 2011, in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes organizations for their outstanding contributions to firefighter health and safety.

Established in 1996, the HFSC is dedicated to educating the public about the life-saving value of fire sprinkler protection for new houses. The materials developed by HFSC are being used in outreach efforts across the country to help consumers, homebuilders, officials, water suppliers, real estate and property insurance professionals, and the media understand the many benefits of fire sprinklers.

HFSC is being recognized for advancing two of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. "The 14th initiative calls for more resources in the area of public education; the 15th advocates for the installation of home fire sprinklers and the strengthening of enforcement codes." 

Congratulations HFSC on such well deserved recognition!

Maria Figueroa


NFPA, much like the rest of the country, was saddened last week when seven children died in a home fire in Pennsylvania. Headlines of the tragic event filled newspapers across the country.  Unfortunately it was not the only sad story to befall the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania just this year.  There were several other fire fatalities making news since January.

As we looked at these horrific cases, we were struck by an irony. Also last week, special interests continued their effort – through HB 377 -- to repeal an existing requirement in the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code (UCC) for home fire sprinklers in new homes.

We thought that warranted some public attention. We designed this ad and wanted to place it in a newspaper The area newspaper rejected the ad saying that it was not in their best interest to print an ad that mentioned the incident involving the seven children. (Not sure what that means given it was covered as a news story.)

Our message is simple - It is too late for these fire victims but we can do something to save countless lives for generations to come by requiring home fire sprinklers in new homes.

Home fire sprinklers reduce the risk of dying in a fire by up to 80 percent and reduce the average property loss by more than 70 percent. Home fire sprinklers also provide a much-needed level of safety for firefighters and other first responders who regularly risk their lives fighting these blazes. Every national safety code covering one- and two-family homes now requires the installation of fire sprinkler systems in new construction.

The consensus of the Building Code Review and Advisory Committee under the Pennsylvania Department of Labor was to promulgate the requirement. Installing sprinklers in new homes ensures that Pennsylvania residents enjoy the same level of safety at home that they have in most offices, schools, apartments and public buildings. Some are working to remove that level of protection for Pennsylvania residents.

So while we saved money on the placement of the ad, we really want to save lives. Rejecting HB 377 will do just that. The bill will now be  taken up in the Senate. Please contact your Pennsylvania senator and ask him or her to vote No on HB 377.

Lorraine Carli

One of the best defenses against anti-sprinkler legislation is sound research that can be used to convince lawmakers, whether through public outreach or legislative testimony, of the benefits of home fire sprinklers.

Case in point: Residential Fire Sprinklers — Water Usage and Water Meter Performance Study (PDF, 2 MB), a new report that concludes that a home fire sprinkler system uses, on average, only a small fraction of the water used by the fire service in a response to a fire at an unsprinklered home.

The study, commissioned by the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), found that water conservation of a sprinkler system is significant: the amount of water used to fight fires in homes without sprinkler systems can be many times higher than the amount discharged solely by a sprinkler system. In addition, many of the residential water meters tested met criteria established by NFPA 13D, Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. The FPRF study found that projected water infrastructure demand could be reduced by 47 percent when homes in a community are protected by sprinklers.

Read more about this new study in an NFPA Journal feature article by Fred Durso, Jr.

- Mike Hazell

Today, there is a new voice heard throughout the firefighting community – and it begins with a WOOF! In honor of Sparky the Fire Dog’s® 60th birthday, Barry Brickey, the public education officer for Kingsport Fire Department in Kingsport, Tenn., has been selected to be the next “Voice of Sparky,” the official mascot of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Barry, who submitted a video to the NFPA in a nationwide competition among the firefighting community, was chosen as one of three finalists out of 25 entries by a panel of NFPA judges. The public cast their votes once a day between February 21 and 28, and Brickey’s supporters came out in full force.

Watch Barry's winning entry:

For additional information on the “Voice of Sparky” contest and other Sparky birthday celebrations throughout the year, visit NFPA’s website at

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