Braving the nearly 90-degree weather, a curious mass of more than 125 people convened on May 21 in a parking lot on the University of Texas at Arlington campus. Things were about to get hotter, though. Much hotter.
Against the backdrop of two makeshift bedrooms, Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy started the event by uttering some startling statistics to the crowd. "From 2002 to 2013, 128 Texans died in nonsprinklered, mutli-family dwellings. Guess how many died in sprinklered facilities? Zero.
"In this day and time, having people die from fire is unacceptable--and fixable."
Texan Justina Page (also one of NFPA's Faces of Fire) drove Connealy's point home. The crowd remained hushed as she recounted her personal tragedy of losing one of her twin boys in a house fire. "His death could have been prevented if I had the little firemen [sprinklers] in my house," she said. "Was my son worth the cost [of installing sprinklers]? More importantly, are your children? You can't put a price on safety."
Then came the demonstration, captured by news cameras. Attendees, filming the moment themselves with their smart phones, uttered "wows" as one of the makeshift bedrooms was set on fire and reached flashover in under three minutes. Firemen then swarmed the scene and doused the flames. The other structure, equipped with a sprinkler system, extinguished the fire soon after the crowd heard the "beeps" of the room's smoke alarm.
The event coincided with the Building Professionals Institute, a week-long program at the university offering education and training courses for building professionals. Educating this group on the importance of sprinklers is an important step in obtaining increased acceptance of these systems, said Paul Ward, chief building official with the city of Southlake, Texas, who also attended the event.