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Herald News online article reports that on September 28th a home fire claimed the lives of two boys, ages 3 and 5. According to the article, a relative said; “they were fun-loving boys who were always smiling.”

The fire was received by the fire department shortly after noon and was reported to have started in a downstairs recreation room. Both boys were found unresponsive by firefighters in a second-floor bedroom in the front of the house.Hickory Hills Fire                    Pictured here: Home where two boys died - Herald News

Hickory Hills was ahead of the curve when, in 2005, it adopted the requirement of fire sprinklers in all new home construction. Unfortunately, the home where the fire occurred - considered fairly new - was built in 1994 with wired, interconnected smoke alarms.

Home fire sprinkler opponents, mainly home builders, often perpetuate the myth that smoke alarms provide enough protection to prevent death by fire in the home, and that NFPA 13D fire sprinkler systems are expensive, despite the results of a research study revealing an average price of $1.61 a sprinklered square foot; yet the NAHB touts the benefits of buying new homes with features that have nothing to do with safety and that add much more to the price of a new home than a fire sprinkler system would. 

The problem with the "smoke alarms are enough" myth is that it fails to take into consideration several important factors; such as age, disability, demographics and other characteristics associated with fire death risk. It is obvious that, at least in this latest case, scientific research trumps opponents’ arguments.

This fire brought back memories of the first fire with a child death that I experienced in my career as a firefighter. This happened 25 years ago; why is it still happening? Approximately 75,000 civilians have died since then, including helpless little children, such as the ones felled by this fire. Why is this acceptable? Why are we still fighting this war? And, most importantly; who’s going to be held accountable?

I don’t have the answers to the questions above, but I do know that the Hickory Hills community will be impacted by this incident for years to come. This includes every firefighter who participated in this incident who will be impacted for the rest of their lives; I can attest to that.

Hickory Hills firefighters                  Pictured here: Firefighters after the fatal fire - Herald News

To all of you out there who, like me, experience the frustration when you witness what is happening around our country with the adoption of the IRC requirement; don’t despair. Just forge ahead and put it on the record; “fire sprinklers save lives” and remember who you are fighting for. We will never surrender, and we shall prevail in the end.

Maria Figueroa

A fire in a six unit, two story apartment building in Somersworth, NH, was controlled by a single sprinkler. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the occupancy, allowing the unit’s occupant to continue living in the home.

Somersworth 13R savePhoto courtesy of the Somersworth Fire Department

 According to Donald P. Bliss, Interim Fire Chief & Emergency Management Director of the Somersworth Fire Department, the fire in a building owned by the Somersworth Housing Authority, “was caused by an unattended tea candle sitting on a table that ignited some clothing material hanging on the back of the door.” He informs that the sprinkler quickly extinguished the fire with minimal damage.

In what can only be described as serendipitous irony, he adds; “the engine company was able to be quickly released to respond mutual aid to the neighboring community for an apartment fire in which the occupant was critically injured.”

What a difference a fire sprinkler makes! Minor damage, no injuries, no one displaced from their home versus mutual aid response, extensive damage, critical injuries; possible displacement of many occupants from their homes. 

Do you know of any other examples of residential fire sprinklers saving life and property? Share them here with us, or click my name below and send them along.

Maria Figueroa

Home Fire Sprinklers were the focus at the Maui (HI) Arson Conference recently, where a side-by-side demonstration emphasized their effectiveness in protecting life and property. “We are hoping for some legislation either through the state or county, to have sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings” said Maui Fire Chief Jeff Murray.



Photos courtesy of Wendy Osher

The demonstration provided an educational opportunity for lawmakers and citizens of Maui, who were able to witness first-hand how a sprinkler will react during a residential fire. Citing statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, Public Education Officer Kapono Supplebeen showed support for the cause. “We’ve done a good job in our commercial facilities, and our schools; but 80% of the people who die in fires – approximately 3,000 people die every year in fires – 80% of them die in residential or home fires."

Side-by-side demonstration kits are available from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and are a powerful tool to spread the message that sprinklers save lives. 

- Karen Wallingford

The central government for the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, referrred to as HM Government, recently posted an online petition form to "make fire sprinklers compulsory in all new dwellings". The e-petition is a response to a law being passed in Wales where sprinklers are mandated and, "seeks to ensure that the same law is brought to the rest of the UK. No one has ever died as a result of a fire in a building with a working sprinkler system. They are cost effective and save lives."

To date, there have been 479 signatures. 

The Fire Sprinkler Initiative web site provides a sample petition, along with several other resources, to help promote an ordinance in your community. 

- Karen Wallingford

With funding through a Fire Prevention and Safety Grant awarded by the Grant Programs Directorate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition will select 100 BUILT FOR LIFE Fire Departments (BFLFD) to each receive $1,000 stipends. The stipends can be used to conduct powerful sprinkler side-by-side educational demonstrations for their communities. Applications are due October 15.

Side-by-Side sprinkler demonstrations are a highly effective way to educate the public and decision makers on the life saving power of residential sprinklers. 

- Karen Wallingford

A two-story apartment in Port Deposit, Maryland was saved last week when its residential sprinkler system activated and extiguished flames that threatened the rest of the home. "The sprinkler system did what it was supposed to do. It activated and confined the fire, saving people's lives" said Deputy State Fire Marshal, Mark A. Bilger.  Maryland adopted and implemented the International Residential Code requiring residential sprinklers in all new one- and two- family homes beginning January 1, 2011. Sprinkler saves such as this reenforce the need to spread the message that residential sprinklers save lives and property. 

In Cornelius, North Carolina, a sprinkler extinguished a fire that was thought to have originated in the kitchen. No one was home at that time of the fire, and the flames had been completely extinguished by the sprinkler system when the fire department arrived. North Carolina currently does not have a residential sprinkler requirement, but evidence such as this and effective advocacy efforts could help to sway legislation.

- Karen Wallingford

The October 2011 edition of AirTran Airways - one of America’s largest low-fare airlines - in-flight magazine will feature an ad advocating for home fire sprinkler requirements aimed at educating the flying public.

“Reaching an average of 2 million passengers per month”, according to AirTran, this impact piece by the National Fire Sprinkler Association highlights the fact that while travelers are protected by fire sprinklers in hotel rooms, most families are still not protected at home; the place where 85% of deadly fires occur.

The digital version has not yet been published online but you can view it here once it is up on the Go magazine website.

Maria Figueroa

In response to a recent sprinkler demonstration at their school, students of Harper College (IL) posted this status update on their facebook page: "Check out the pics from our Fire Science Tech sprinkler demo last night. Makes us want to 1) take a fire science class and 2) immediately install sprinklers in our homes!" Reactions like this are a sign that sprinkler demonstrations are getting the point across. 

Harper college side by side
Harper College posted this photo of the unsprinklered room versus the sprinklered room after the demonstration

Meanwhile, at the Old Home Days annual festival in Clinton (MA), a sprinkler demonstration drew a crowd of about 500 people:

Crowd at Olde Home Days celebration getting ready for sprinkler demonstration
Crowd gathers for sprinkler demonstration at Olde Home Days celebration 

Unsprinklered room set ablaze at Olde Home Days sprinkler demonstration
Unsprinklered chamber set ablaze during side-by-side burn demonstration

The demonstration provided another powerful glimpse at the life saving value of home fire sprinklers. 

- Karen Wallingford

Gary Keith Gary Keith, NFPA’s Vice President of field operations, will be speaking on behalf of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative at the Phoenix Society's 2011 World Burn Conference. The World Burn Conference is an annual international conference for burn survivors, their families, care givers, burn care professionals and firefighters. Joining other keynote speakers, Mr. Keith will provide information on building a safer home, and available resources from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

As part of the larger mission of The Phoenix Society, the conference will include workshops focused on advocacy tips and relevant skills training. Breakout sessions during the conference will also be offered to attendees from all areas of the burn world. As a special tribute, there will be a remembrance walk to the firefighter memorial that is open to the media. 

Watch a slide show from last year's conference:


Phoenix Society's World Burn Congress 2010 Slideshow from Phoenix Society on Vimeo.

- Karen Wallingford

The Fire Sprinkler Initiative is teaming up again with a local community to showcase the value of home fire sprinklers. The fire department from Clinton (MA), a small town roughly 45 miles west of Boston, will be hosting a side-by-side fire demonstration to teach the value of home sprinklers to the public. “More people die in fires at home than anywhere else,” said Clinton Fire Chief Richard J. Hart. “This will be a very visual way for people to see how we can better protect our community.”

The demonstration, during which firefighters will set two identical rooms on fire — one with sprinklers and one without — will take place tomorrow, September 8 in a parking lot at 24 Walnut St. Not in the Boston area this weekend?  Watch some sprinkler demonstration videos on our website.

- Karen Wallingford

A fire that broke out in an apartment home last week proved yet again that sprinklers provide undeniable protection for lives and property. The fire started in the kitchen as resident Mary Mann was heating vegetable oil in a frying pan. Thankfully, a sprinkler head doused the fire nearly as quickly as it started, and she and her son escaped unscathed. 

According to Belfast Fire Chief Jim Richards,the fire was reported at about 4:45 p.m. and the fire had already been extinguished by the sprinkler head when he arrived a few minutes later. "It worked really well," said Richards, noting that three Belfast fire trucks and 17 firefighters responded to the scene. "Everything worked out great."

According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of home fires. With facts like these it makes sense that sprinklers should be installed in every home. Advocate for residential sprinklers in your community. 

- Karen Wallingford

The fire science technology department of Harper College (Palatine, IL) will be holding a side-by-side sprinkler demonstration for fire science students and the public. The demonstration will provide a real life example of the power and value of residential fire sprinklers. “Time is the biggest enemy in any fire, and demonstrations like this one are outstanding illustrations of the drastic difference that sprinkler systems can make,” said Sam Giordano, coordinator of Harper’s Fire Science Technology department. “It’s vital for our students to see this demonstration, and it’s equally important for local residents to see it and to understand the importance of sprinkler systems.”

Side-by-side burns use two mock rooms, one outfitted with sprinklers and one without. The rooms are then ignited, and the audience witnesses the scary, real time growth of a home fire. The fire in the room outfitted with sprinklers is quickly extinguished by the sprinkler head, suffering only water damage. In comparison, the un-sprinklered room is burned beyond repair. 

- Karen Wallingford

Alabam In a move that can only be described as sadly ironic, the Home Builders Association of Alabama received the Association Excellence Award at the annual awards program at the National Executive Officers Council Seminar last week. The National Executive Officers Council is part of the National Association of Home Builders. According to their website, the award recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of state and local Home Builder Association programs. The Alabama project was the successful effort to pass a statewide building code omitting the provision for home fire sprinklers.

This is troubling for two reasons. First, all model building codes now include the provision for home fire sprinklers in new one and two family homes. Choosing to adopt a code that is less than the minimum level of safety equates to allowing substandard construction. Second, and more disconcerting, is the fact that the state of Alabama has the fourth highest fire death rate amongst the 50 states. The national fire death rate in 2007 was 10.9 deaths per million population. In Alabama it was 22.3.

The risk of dying in a home fire decreases by 80% when home fire sprinklers are present. The effort in Alabama to ignore this proven life safety technology is irresponsible, to reward it, outrageous.

Lorraine Carli

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