Three high schools in the city of Nampa are participating in a construction management program that teach young participants homebuilding basics. A crucial piece to this program is home fire sprinklers, linking tomorrow's builders with vital information and hands-on installation.
NFPA chatted with Reggie Edwards, deputy fire marshal with the Nampa Fire Department and member of the Idaho Fire Sprinkler Coalition, about the program and the beneficial consequences of replicating something similar for youth across North America.
What's the crux of this program?
The students in this program have aspirations of working in the trades. Many express that they want to become building contractors. The instructor, Bret Miller, is a licensed building contractor. Through his partnership with Habitat For Humanity, students build a home from start to finish. They learn about acquiring the property, drawing and designing the plans, the permit process, and every step along the way up to handing over the keys to the new homeowners.
How were home fire sprinklers incorporated into this program?
About five years ago during a brainstorming session at a monthly Idaho Fire Sprinkler Coalition meeting, we brought up the question: How are we going to change the hearts and minds of building contractors and their perception of residential fire sprinklers? The Idaho Building Contractors Association has historically been very opposed to residential fire sprinklers and are a very powerful lobby at our legislature.
A light bulb eventually went off. Pro-tech students are a very focused group of youth that want to be building contractors. Let's educate and train them [on sprinklers], dispel the myths, let them be a part of the installation that very well may save the lives of the occupants. When they become adults, they will embrace residential fire sprinklers, encourage adoption in local codes, and most likely install them in all the homes they build.
If we were to do this nationwide, the culture will change. Residential fire sprinklers will be the norm and accepted just as smoke detectors are today.
I visited local fire sprinkler companies, explained the program to them, and asked for their support. The support was overwhelming. Sprinkler companies were clamoring to be involved and donated parts, pipefitters, designs, and plans. I then approached the school district and asked for permission to place fire sprinklers into the construction management curriculum. It was immediately approved. With help from the Nampa Fire Prevention Bureau, I developed and delivered classroom presentations on all types of fire sprinklers systems. I was initially concerned about how it would be received by the students, but the students provided great questions and displayed great interest.
Coincidentally, a local fire sprinkler company has two employees whose family was a recipient of a local Habitat for Humanity home. It was an immediate partnership. Companies are already calling me because they want to be first in line to donate parts or services for the next house.
On installation day, the students are very hands-on. Their involvement and enthusiasm has been awesome. Every year, at the end of the school calendar year, the Nampa Fire Prevention Bureau and the Idaho Fire Protection Forum host a fire sprinkler demonstration at our drill grounds. The construction management students are the honored guests at this event. They get to meet and greet industry leaders, local politicians, and authorities having jurisdiction from throughout the region. They get to see the benefits of their work.
How's the program going?
It's really taken off. We've worked on four Habitat For Humanity homes thus far.
Maybe we will change the way the next generation of homebuilders thinks. I’m really encouraged. I just wish more local fire departments would partner with their school's pro-tech programs. It takes time, effort, and someone with the passion. But the long-term benefits are worth it.