Skip navigation
All Places > FSI > Blog > 2014 > March

Keith YouseKeith Youse has heard all of the reasons from sprinkler opponents on why these systems aren't necessary in homes. And he believed them. Nestled in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, the getaway home he and his wife moved into in 2007 had "adequate" fireproofing material and a hardwired alarm system that, he says, would keep them safe from a fire.

Then, one bitterly cold morning in January, he was awakened by one of his houseguests, who smelled smoke. Youse could hear what appeared to be movement in his attic, which was undergoing renovation. Heading upstairs, he noticed more smoke. "Call 911, and get everyone out of the house!" he shouted to his wife and three guests. What Youse had heard was the crackling of fire.

The group hurried into a warm car while waiting 10 minutes for the fire department's arrival. In the meantime, "I could see a glow. I could see inside one of the attic windows that [the fire] went from a smoky glow to an actual flame," Youse tells NFPA. "I could see flames in the upper portion of the window."

Youse's adrenaline kept him warm in the minus 7 degree weather, as did seeing the aftermath of the incident. The fire department contained the fire damage to the attic, but the water ruined the ceiling of the floor below and some of the structure's insulation. Investigators attributed the cause to a light used by the contractors that was on at the time of the fire. The damages amounted to about $255,000.

The incident has turned Youse into a sprinkler advocate. His home is now sprinkler protected. "I would be a fool not to [include sprinklers in my home]," he says. "I'm going to retire up there. My family will be up there, the home will be passed to my grandchildren. I want it as safe as I can make if for them. We're doing everything now that, in hindsight, we should have done before."

Youse's advice for potential homeowners in the market for new one- or two-family homes is to make sure sprinklers are installed. "Sprinklers were a hard sell for me, but not anymore," he says. "People need to realize how important they are."

LinkedInLooking for discussions on sprinkler-related topics? Have a question that needs answering? Want to connect with other sprinkler advocates in the field?

Join the Fire Sprinkler Initiative Group on LinkedIn. If you're already a member, please look for the brief survey I've posted on the sprinkler topics you'd like to see more of via this forum. Your feedback is very important to us.

Matt HeislerLate one evening, Ryan Nelson returned to the apartment he and his roommate, Matt Heisler, shared near the University of North Dakota campus and saw heavy smoke billowing from the windows. Nelson, 20, immediately reacted, shattering Heisler's bedroom window and searching for him before pulling back from the smoke. He then went through the home's front entrance, crawling on his hands and knees before locating Heisler. After carrying Heisler's body to safety, he noticed his friend had no heartbeat.

Nelson immediately performed CPR. Life returned to Heisler, albeit briefly. He died in the hospital two days later at the age of 21, according to a news story by the Star Tribune.

"In accordance with his wishes, his organs will be donated so others can live," Heisler's parents, Jared and Cheryl Heisler, said in a statement. "We just...miss Matthew, and how the thought of going through the rest of our lives without him is beyond what we can imagine right now."

Fire officials said the blaze at the unsprinklered residence was initiated by unattended cooking. The Center for Campus Fire Safety is using this incident to draw attention to the dangers of cooking fires--the leading cause of fire in off-campus housing--and how home fire sprinklers can prevent loss of life and property.

A similar incident occurred recently at a Marist College townhouse in New York. Cooking was also the culprit of the fire, but a sprinkler system contained the fire to the kitchen. No injuries were reported. "This is an excellent example of how a sprinkler system in a building can save lives and property," said Chief Christopher Maeder of the Fairview Fire District.

March 2014 Fire Sprinkler Initiative NewsletterUpon examining an astounding 12,000 home fires, researchers have concluded that home fire sprinklers play a significant role in protecting property and saving lives, regardless of a building's materials.

Find more information about this study in the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter. You'll also find stories on:

  • a house fire that ended a firefighter's career
  • a deadly rise in house fires in Minneapolis, and what fire service officials are doing about it
  • new funding by the Department of Homeland Security to investigate fire safety concerns of green buildings

Subscribe to the free newsletter to receive this monthly news update directly in your inbox.

NJ Fire Sprinkler CoalitionMonths after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie failed to act on a bill that would have required home fire sprinklers in New Jersey, a devastating house fire has destroyed a retired couple's home and has injured a firefighter.

According to The Star-Ledger, firefighters were on the roof when the fire intensified in the attic. As the fire grew, a firefighter exited the house and quickly collapsed into the snow-covered lawn. He was transported to a nearby hospital after given oxygen by EMTs. The three-alarm blaze continued for two hours before it was doused by firefighters. One of the residents was escorted to safety. The other wasn't home during the fire. 

The incident is proof-positive that residential sprinklers can be a live-saving tool for high-risk groups, including the elderly, stated David Kurasz, executive director of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, in a recent Star-Ledger editorial. "While smoke alarms are effective, they require residents to take action and can do nothing to prevent the spread of fire or extinguish it entirely," says Kurasz, also the vice chair of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Coalition. "Our most vulnerable citizens, including children, the elderly, and the disabled, may not be able to respond to alarms as others might."

Read the full editorial for more information.

House firesTwo recent house fires occurred on the same day in California, and the outcomes couldn't have been more different.

According to the Contra Costa Times, one of the fires occurred at a senior apartment complex equipped with a sprinkler system. By the time firefighters had arrived, sprinklers had doused the flames. The fire alarm and sprinklers "had operated as designed and averted what would have been a certain tragedy," according to a statement by the Contra Costa County Fire Prevention District that was mentioned in a news story on Patch.

The other fire occurred later in the day in an unsprinklered home and injured a resident who was trying to fight the fire before escaping the premises with four other family members. Though the fire was contained to one room, the Contra Costa Times reports that significant smoke damage had occurred.

Learn more about U.S. home structure fires and other sprinkler successes. 

There have been 10 fire deaths in Minneapolis within the first 10 weeks of 2014.

This unprecedented statistic in Minneapolis was the catalyst that recently convened fire officials in that city in an effort to underscore fire safety, including the necessity for home fire sprinklers. A local ABC News affiliate covered the event, which included a side-by-side sprinkler demonstration. "Many of these tragedies are killing or injuring people long before the fire departments even get called," says Chief Tim Butler of the St. Paul Fire Department.

Also in attendance was George Esbensen, another Minnesota fire chief, who wrote a recent op-ed on the state's residential fire problem. "Today's new home is tomorrow's 40-year-old home," he tells ABC News. "In all of these homes where these people have died, if they have been sprinklered when they were built, those people would be alive."

An administrative law judge in Minnesota recently ruled that the state can order builders to install sprinkler systems in new, single-family homes more than 4,500 square feet. Minnesota's Department of Labor and Industry anticipates an effective date of Fall 2014, if Governor Mark Dayton approves the measure.

Watch the following video for more information on this developing story.


Green buildings
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is funding a three-year project through the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) aimed at identifying and reducing potential risks posed by "green" elements in newer buildings. The $1 million project is a follow-up to the 2012 report commissioned by the Fire Protection Research Foundation that identified dozens of these concerns and how research could pinpoint mitigation tactics.

In his initial research, Brian Meacham, associate professor of fire protection engineering at WPI, compiled a list of 78 green building features and construction elements that could pose risks to firefighters and occupants. Lightweight engineered lumber, for instance, uses less material and could present risks during fires for its propensity to collapse more quickly than conventional timber construction.

Meacham will collaborate with the Foundation and NFPA to further explore these and other hazards for the new project as well as suggested modifications for firefighting tactics in green buildings. Home fire sprinklers might also be suggested as a potential mitigation measure, says Meacham.

"There's no argument that builders need to create a more sustainably built environment," he says. "However, providing safe environments for building occupants and first responders is equally essential. Through this research, we look to identify areas in which sustainable or green building solutions might create fire safety concerns, and then develop data, tools, and methods to help reduce the fire risk."

For more information on the 2012 report highlighting the safety challenges of green buildings, read the feature story in NFPA Journal.

Justina PageA Fox affiliate in Houston, Texas, recently interviewed Justina Page, a burn survivor who lost her 22-month-old son in a house fire that kept her in a medically induced coma for six weeks. As the executive director of the House of Amos, Page now offers support to families affected by burn trauma. She's also one of NFPA's Faces of Fire, a campaign aimed at promoting the use of automatic sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings.

"As I look at my children playing, I think of my son, Amos, that I lost," she tells the Fox affiliate. "What would he look like? Would he be like his twin brother? How I long to hold him." Benjamin, Amos' twin brother, suffers from permanent mental and speech impairments due to a lack of oxygen the day of the fire.

Page has slowly bounced back from her tragedy, but she's hoping her experience will serve as a lesson for others. "Do what you know to do--like change the batteries in smoke detectors--and be proactive, not reactive," she tells NFPA. "Sprinklers would have made a difference, and that's why we're looking to get them installed."

It didn't take long for students at the Detroit Carpenters Apprenticeship Training School to see the fruits of their labor literally go up in smoke. Flames billowed from their creation--a boxed-in replica of a furnished living room--and destroyed everything inside before firefighters doused the fire.

Similarly, the students watched a fire ignite inside their other living room replica, but this time a sprinkler system activated and saved the structure and its contents.

The Detroit school was one of the recent recipients of a $1,500 stipend supplied by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. The funds and side-by-side demonstrations aim to teach future builders about the rapidity of home structure fires and the effects of home fire sprinklers.

"The carpentry school has a new round of students come in every three months for this class, so we're going to keep doing this until the money runs out,"  Brian Batten, fire marshal for the Ferndale, Michigan, Fire Department, stated in a recent news story. The department has partnered with the school for these demonstrations. "It's something that these students are going to remember. They may be more aware at home. They may go talk about fire safety to other people. And when they get jobs in the construction business, they may encourage their clients to have sprinkler systems installed."

Watch the video of a similar burn demonstration at NFPA headquarters in Quincy, Mass., and visit NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative site for others. 


Washington Fire Sprinkler CoalitionThe Washington Fire Sprinkler Coalition offered its wealth of sprinkler knowledge to the state's Building Code Council at a recent hearing.

The 15-member council is seeking input on the 2015 edition of the state's residential building code. The current edition has placed sprinkler provisions for one- and two-family dwellings---provisions found in model safety codes---into an appendix. This placement allows jurisdictions to adopt sprinkler requirements but prohibits statewide adoption, says coalition chair Jeff LaFlam.

"We want to become an educational resource ... so that you can make fact-based decisions about the importance of residential fire sprinklers to the people of Washington State during the upcoming code cycle," LaFlam told the Code Council at the public hearing. He also supplied the council with brochures and educational DVDs from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Education has been at the forefront of the coalition's efforts since it formed nearly seven years ago. Consisting of nearly 300 members including local fire service officials and nurses who assist burn survivors, the coalition is hoping to keep its momentum going during the current code cycle.

"There's much more awareness from the general public [about home fire sprinklers]," LaFlam, also the fire marshal for the Northshore Fire Department, tells NFPA. "As more people learn about them, they'll feel it's much more palatable to have them in their homes and to understand the value of them."

Visit NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative website to learn more about the Washington Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Home Fire Sprinkler Report
It makes no difference whether a home is built with wood, concrete, or metal; residential sprinkler systems play a vital role in limiting fire deaths, injuries, and fire spread in these settings regardless of building material.

This is one of the findings from the recent research report, "Fire Outcomes in Residential Fires by General Construction Type," released by the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia. Nearly 12,000 residential building fires were examined over a five-year period. The study also analyzed five categories of construction components and life safety systems at the affected properties.

"There appears to be little difference with respect to fire spread, death, and injury rates as a function of building general construction type, provided these buildings have functioning smoke alarms and complete sprinkler protection," states the report. The study also concludes that regardless of a building's construction material, fires occurring at homes with these fire safety systems in place resulted in zero fire deaths.

For more information, read the full report.

New York StateFire safety advocates, including NFPA, attended a meeting last week with the New York State Code Council, which is looking to update the state's residential code. The new code aims to adhere to provisions in model safety codes, which require home fire sprinkler installation in one- and two-family dwellings.

The top priority this year for the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs is to get a new residential code passed and have it include sprinkler requirements, says Don Corkery, the association's vice president, who spoke at the meeting. "Our generation has the chance to do something that will save lives for centuries to come," he tells NFPA. "Our friends in government always say that [firefighters] are heroes. I would like to go back to the Code Council in six months to a year and label them heroes for having the courage to pass this code."

This push for sprinklers comes at a crucial time; Corkery notes that today's home fires tend to burn longer and hotter due to furnishings generously stuffed with combustible materials. NFPA data indicates that in recent years fires involving upholstered furniture have annually accounted for the largest share of fire deaths of any first item ignited in U.S. homes.

The Code Council has decided to revisit the  issue of updating its state's residential code in May. Stay tuned for more updates, and in the meantime, learn more about home fire sprinklers at NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.

A fire at a single-family home didn't initially appear serious to Angie Roach; when she and her fellow firefighters arrived on the scene, there was minimal smoke emitting from the structure. The fire, however, was raging in the basement, and when she set foot on the subflooring, it gave way, sending Roach directly into the flames.

Firefighters eventually rescued her, but the damage had been done. She suffered third- and fourth-degree burns on 45 percent of her body. It was a career-ending experience. "After my accident, my life  changed tremendously," says Roach. "I was a very active person. I've been married a couple of years. Everything was perfect in my life. Then I was burned. It took me several months to realize I was not the same person I was before the fire."

Roach puts a human face to fire's devastating effects. Her story is one of a number highlighted via the Faces of Fire Campaign, a component of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative that uses testimony from individuals affected by fire to promote home fire sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings. Sprinkler advocates feel it's easier to convince legislators and state decision makers on the life-saving benefits of sprinklers after hearing stories like Roach's.

"Had that residence had residential sprinklers...I would have been able to continue my career as a firefighter," she says. Check out the following video highlighting Roach's story, and don't forget to take a look at the other personal stories from the Faces of Fire Campaign.


Fire Sprinkler Initiative NewsletterIn a recent edition of the Montreal Gazette, an editorial takes a firm stance in support of sprinkler requirements following a tragic fire that killed more than 30 people in January. Politicians, it states, should get more serious about the tried-and-true lifesaving aspects of sprinklers.

The new issue of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter highlights this editorial as well as important sprinkler news across the U.S., including:

  • Minnesota is now a step closer to sprinkler requirements in certain homes
  • Illinois continues to see a rise in the number of communities with sprinkler requirements
  • The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition releases new educational materials

Subscribe to the free newsletter to stay current on all sprinkler efforts. You'll automatically receive updates on sprinkler legislation, advocacy, and news from around the globe.

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: