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2015

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NFPA's recently released report, "Fire Loss in the United States During 2014," is a grim reminder of the annual losses experienced by home fires. Culling through the data, one thing is definite: home fires are still a major problem in the U.S. 

For instance, in 2014:

  • there were more than 367,000 home structure fires
  • 2,745 people died in home fires, meaning that 84 percent of the country's fire deaths that year happened at home
  • home fires caused 11,825 injuries, or 75 percent of all civilian fire injuries
  • property loss from home fires totaled $6.8 billion 

Data over a five-year period showcases some additional insight. Between 2009 and 2013:

  • Ninety-two percent of all structure fire deaths resulted from home fires
  • on average, seven people died each day from home fires
  • smoking was the leading cause of civilian home fire deaths
  • cooking equipment was the leading cause of civilian fire injuries and home structure fires

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Home fires are a serious matter. Please share this research and this convenient fact sheet with your state or region's decision makers and inform them of these facts .All it takes is a simple email to alert them of the problem. Also inform them that the solution to this problem exists. 

Justin Trudeau

Canada's version of the White House, 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa is the official residence of the country's prime minister. But don't expect recently elected Justin Trudeau to call it home just yet. The 34-room residence is in dire need of safety upgrades. 

Once the childhood home of Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the mansion needs some major fixes. According to an article in Maclean's Magazine, plumbing and wiring are in disrepair. There's asbestos in the walls. Most important to readers of this blog, "it has no fire sprinklers," according to the article. 

Once Trudeau takes office on November 4, he and his family will relocate to a 22-room cottage in nearby Rideau Hall, per the Wall Street Journal. Trudeau plans to make a decision on upgrades to 24 Sussex once officials brief him on the home's condition. 

Let's hope fire sprinklers make the list. 

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Speaking of Canada, review the recent study, "Healthcare Costs of Burn Patients From Homes Without Fire Sprinklers," developed by the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. 

October 2015 Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletterIn the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter, read how a Minnesota appeals court overturned the state’s home fire sprinkler requirement the day before a Minnesota father and his two sons died in a home fire.

On a more positive note, the newsletter also highlights: 

  • NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative Summit in Phoenix
  • FPW events that promoted smoke alarms—and home fire sprinklers
  • An array of sprinkler activations, from Alaska to Maryland, that had a hand in saving lives

 

 

 

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Not receiving the newsletter directly in your inbox each month? Subscribe for free today to make sure you're staying on top of crucial sprinkler news from across North America.

Introducing the New Hampshire Fire Sprinkler Coalition, which now joins 26 other U.S. coalitions that are increasing awareness of and support for home fire sprinklers. During a public event last month in Concord, New Hampshire, the coalition attracted the local media due to its fiery demonstration underscoring the spread of today's home fires:  

 

Additionally, the event emphasized the speed in which sprinklers can respond to fire:

 

 

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Living in a state with a fire sprinkler coalition? Please visit the coalitions' webpages for information on how you can get involved. We promise--lending your voice and support to these state-specific causes are not time-consuming endeavors.

Florida Fire Sprinkler CoalitionFire safety advocates in Florida are reaping the fruits of their labor following a well-thought-out push for home fire sprinklers.

This month, Estero Fire District in Florida unanimously voted that fire sprinklers be included in all new, one- and two-family homes. The measure wasn't an easy feat, since sprinkler opponents diligently fought its passage, noting that installation costs would "price families out of the housing market," per an article that appeared on News-Press.com. 

Countering this claim was the Estero Fire Rescue, which commissioned a study on the requirement's economic impact, a necessity for Floridian towns considering a sprinkler ordinance. According to the report, the average installation cost is $1.61 per sprinklered square foot, pennies above the national average of $1.35.

Additionally, developers would benefit from sprinkler "trade-ups," including increased hydrant spacing and longer dead-end streets, which allow additional building lots to be accessed, according to the study.

Chief Scott Vanderbrook with Estero Fire Rescue told News-Press.com that the ordinance, which could be challenged in court, might start a trend in surrounding communities. "I'm sure there are other communities watching what happens with the sprinkler ordinance," he said. "I'm sure they'll wait several months, maybe a year, to see if there are any challenges, see what the hurdles are."

Before their vote, Estero Fire District also heard convincing testimony from burn survivor Pam Elliott, a staunch supporter for home fire sprinklers. An op-ed she produced last year in support of the safety device received national attention. "Being burned is the most devastating thing anyone can experience," she told board members. "It embodies physical, emotional, and spiritual pain."

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Are you in Twitter? If so, send a quick tweet to Estero Fire Rescue congratulating them for their work in passing a sprinkler ordinance. 

Brian Leahy and Lorraine Carli, HFSC president and NFPA VP of Outreach and Advocacy
NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) awarded Fire Chief Brian Leahy from the Clarendon Hills, Illinois, Fire Department with the 2015 Bringing Safety Home Award, presented at the Fire Sprinkler Initiative Summit in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The award recognizes fire service members and other safety advocates who use HFSC's home fire sprinkler educational materials and Fire Sprinkler Initiative resources to ensure that decision-makers have accurate information as new or updated home fire sprinkler codes are considered.  

Fifteen years ago, Chief Leahy spent hours meeting with his mayor and elected officials to educate them about the benefits of home fire sprinklers. His village manager presented him with 33 “concerns” brought up by those who opposed a fire sprinkler requirement. With limited resources, Leahy addressed every concern. His efforts resulted in the passage of an ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in all new, one- and two-family homes. Clarendon Hills became the fifth community in Illinois to do so, but the ordinance was the first in one of the state’s teardown-and-rebuild community. Leahy’s list to the village manager is known as the Clarendon Hills “List of 33” and is still used as a resource in other communities looking to enact home fire sprinkler requirements in new homes.  

Today, more than 700 Clarendon Hills homes and the families that occupy them are protected with fire sprinklers.

Congratulations, Chief!

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For previous Bringing Safety Home Award winners, visit the Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.

MinnesotaDelivering a blow to Minnesota's fire safety advocates, the state's Court of Appeals recently overturned a ruling by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry to sprinkler all new, one- and two-family homes greater than 4,500 square feet.  

Sued by the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, the department saw the sprinkler requirement as a necessity, telling NFPA in 2014 that the the cost of installing sprinklers isn't significant enough to discourage someone from purchasing a home, particularly when weighing the cost against the potential threat to life and property. 

The court didn't agree. "While we can appreciate [the department's] concern with balancing the life-safety benefits of sprinkler systems with increased installation costs, the record simply does not contain a reasoned explanation as to how [the department] determined that an indefinite exception for all one-family dwellings under 4,500 square feet strikes that balance," stated the ruling, which was highlighted in Minnesota media outlets. (The department placed installation costs at $1.51 per sprinklered square foot, pennies above the national average of $1.35.)

This balancing act probably means little to the family of a father and his two boys, age two and five, who died in a South St. Paul home fire a day after the court's decision. Per the Star Tribune, the blaze was the second, multiple-fatality home fire this month in the Twin Cities metro area. 

Fighting back tears, Chanry Soeng discussed the emotional distress of losing her husband and children. She arrived at her home an hour after the fire. “I didn’t see my children. I asked police, I want to see my children and they say, ‘No,’ ” Soeng said.

Read the court's full decision. 

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I mentioned in a previous post that fire does not burn any differently than it ever has. This statement is based on the fact that fire is a science. With that being said, I’m about to emphasize that fires do burn differently today than they have in the past. This statement is based on the fact that the built environment has changed, thus impacting the fire dynamics we are now facing. Notice the significant difference the placement of the letter “s” in fires has on the meaning of the two, italicized statements.

 

The evolution of the built environment includes the increasingly common use of lightweight, low-mass, engineered wood structural components; petroleum-based fuel loads; and, open floor plans. The evolution of these three aspects of the built environment has combined to form the perfect storm of fire dynamics impacting both occupants and firefighters.

 

Changes in modern structural components stem from architects and engineers attempting and succeeding at increasing the load-carrying capacity and cost-efficiency related to those components. These changes began to impact the fire service in the 1970s. It started with truss construction of roof assemblies and truss construction of floor assemblies, both held together with gusset plates, followed by OSB I-beams and other engineered lumber structural components held together with glue. (I once heard a speaker suggest we stop using the term “lightweight construction” and start utilizing the term “low-mass construction.” His reasoning was that anyone who was ever buried under a truss roof collapse knows there is nothing lightweight about them. More so, it is the “low-mass” aspect of these components that creates the problem of reduced fire resistiveness, and therefore should be our focus. I’m not sure why this logic never caught on, but I have always agreed.)

 

While lightweight, low-mass construction was evolving, so were the development, marketing, and use of petroleum-based furnishings and finishes placed in homes. Cost, comfort, convenience, appearance, and a consumer demand for “bigger” all seemed to drive the change. The volume of natural products within the built environment decreased as the volume of petroleum-based products increased. Chicago Battalion Chief Peter Van Dorpe was the first I heard refer to these new furnishings as “comfortable gasoline,” a term that focuses on the true potential hazard when discussing fire suppression.

 

The third aspect of the modern built environment impacting fire dynamics is the increased oxygen supply available in the ever-popular open floor plan. During the plethora of home-improvement TV shows my lovely bride insists on watching, contractors and renovators are always taking out walls, vaulting ceilings, and opening up spaces. (Only one such show I ever saw included the installation of home fire sprinklers during renovation.)

 

While the impact of these open floor plans are now being stressed through the latest scientific research, the concept has been long understood by some. Lloyd Layman wrote in his book, Attacking and Extinguishing Interior Fires:

 

The period of intense flame production within the confined atmosphere is of short duration, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the net atmospheric volume of the space and the rate of oxygen consumption.

 

The term ‘atmospheric area’ is that part of the building where interior atmosphere can circulate freely. An atmospheric area may be confined to a room or may include several rooms or the entire building depending on the openings between various rooms or sections.

 

 

It is not fire itself that has changed. It is the built environment in which fires are occurring that has changed. More volatile fuel loads surrounded by more voluminous amounts of oxygen within lightweight, lower-mass structural components are the culprits. So, why aren’t we focusing more on incorporating the fire suppression process into the built environment to address the problems that that environment has created?

 

This post was written by Rick Ennis, fire chief for the City of Cape Girardeau in Missouri and chair of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Boyd Smith
Burn survivor Boyd Smith received a standing ovation following his presentation on a home fire that forever altered his life


Despite what the opposition says, support for home fire sprinklers is spreading throughout North America. How best to capitalize on this increased awareness and acceptance of this life-safety device was the focus of an NFPA-sponsored event in Phoenix. 

NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative Summit convened some of the top sprinkler advocates and influencers from the western half of the U.S. and throughout Canada. Attendees heard from an array of presenters promoting key topic areas, including the most effective way to get legislators to understand and support requirements for home fire sprinklers; free education and advocacy resources; and legislative and homebuilding success stories. 

Stay tuned for specific highlights from the event. In the meantime, take a peek at some photos from the event and read about the key speakers who presented during NFPA's sprinkler summit in Boston earlier this year.

Shari Shapiro
Shari Shapiro with Calliope Policy Advisors informed attendees on how to effectively reach their legislators
Jim Ford
Fire Marshal Jim Ford discussed a sprinkler requirement in Scottsdale, Arizona, that's been on the books since the 1980s.
Russ Leavitt
Russ Leavitt with Telgian, a consulting and engineering firm, discussed the myths and misconceptions of NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes

Truth be told, you're more likely to spend more time and possibly money maintaining your car annually than you would your home's fire sprinklers. 

"Frequent, expensive maintenance" is what sprinkler opponents say is needed on an annual basis to keep sprinklers in tip-top shape. This is yet another sprinkler myth, since annual inspections and maintenance are simple and do-it-yourself.

The following question appeared in an advice column in the Orange County Register: 

What maintenance should be done on an in-home fire sprinkler system? I live in California and have been told that a fire protection technician should test annually and that failure to do so could cause me to lose my insurance coverage if there's a malfunction.

Highlighted in the question's answer and via the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), regular maintenance isn't difficult. HFSC recommends you perform an annual water flow testing using these simple steps. Furthermore, protect sprinklers by making sure:

  • nothing is blocking the sprinklers
  • pictures and large furniture is kept away from sprinklers on walls
  • hanging lamps and plants are away from ceiling sprinklers
  • you avoid painting the fire sprinkler or cover
  • you avoid bumping sprinklers, and teach children not to touch them

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If anyone knows the simplicity of sprinkler maintenance, it's California State Fire Marshal Tonya Hoover. Watch this informative video produced by HFSC:

Sprinkler demo
While urging the public to "hear the beep where you sleep," this year's Fire Prevention Week theme focusing on working smoke alarms in all bedrooms, safety advocates across North America are also spotlighting a smoke alarm's necessary complement. 

Home fire sprinklers are also getting a fair share of attention during Fire Prevention Week. A series of live burn/sprinkler demonstrations and op-eds published this week are underscoring how the dynamic duo of a fire sprinkler and smoke alarm can significantly slash the risk of dying in home fires.

Attendees at a recent demonstration by the Bartlett Fire Protection District in Illinois gasped as a mock room with a working smoke alarm was fully engulfed in flames in three minutes. Smoke alarms will immediately alert you of a fire, but only a fire sprinkler can douse the flames, giving residents the extra time needed to reach safety, Mike Figolah, Bartlett's assistant fire chief and staunch fire sprinkler supporter, said at the event.

"Our hoses blow about 150 gallons [of water] per minute," Figolah told the Chicago Tribune. "The sprinklers use about 15 gallons. If you use a wet vac on an area [after sprinklers have extinguished a fire] there is a good chance you'll be back in that house tonight."

Live burn/sprinkler demonstrations also occurred in Tennessee, Maine, and New Jersey.

Advocates in the Garden State also used their words during Fire Prevention Week to underscore what they deem as lackluster safety laws. "The state recently adopted the 2015 International Residential Code and specifically left out the portion of including fire sprinklers in all new residential construction," stated David Kuracz, executive director of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board and member of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Coalition in an op-ed that appeared on NJ.com. This was done "despite loud and clear calls from the fire safety and service community that new construction methods leave residents and first responders vulnerable to the quick spread of fire and the reduced time to structural failure of modern building materials.

"This Fire Prevention Week please consider the life-saving benefits of smoke alarms in each bedroom, but also remember that fire sprinklers are the only proactive form of fire protection."

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Is there a sprinkler demonstration taking place in your town? Let us know, and we'll highlight the event on this blog. Watch the following video showcasing just how quickly fire sprinklers extinguish home fires:

Illinois Fire Sprinkler CoalitionIt has been two years since the last major attempt to upgrade Illinois’ statewide model code to include fire sprinklers in all new homes. Before it went to a public hearing, this measure was stopped by the political forces that were aligned to prevent a code upgrade. 

Scare tactics and misinformation were used by opponents to manipulate elected officials. They were told that installation costs were three times as much as actual costs, homes sales would come to a halt, and fire sprinklers offered no insurance breaks, among other pieces of misinformation.            

Since that time, Illinois elected a new governor, appointed a new state fire marshal, and saw a 40-percent turnover in state representatives and senators. Fire sprinkler advocates saw this as a prime opportunity to educate the newcomers with accurate sprinkler information while re-educating existing officials with materials by the Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. For many of the new officials, it would be the first time they receive information about fire safety or building codes. Since similar turnovers occur at the county and municipal level, these officials would also benefit from some sprinkler education.  

To help us with this effort, the Illinois Fire Sprinkler Coalition sought and obtained a Bringing Safety Home Grant from the Fire Sprinkler Initiative. (Thanks, NFPA!) Combining the grant with both in-kind donations and monetary support, the coalition will be able to greatly reproduce needed educational materials.  

The distribution method of the materials is also important. Instead of solely delivering via postal mail, the coalition plans to have the local fire service hand deliver items to the elected officials’ district offices in hopes of initiating dialogue. Since there is no pressure to act or vote on the subject, they will be able to have lengthier conversations on the subject with the politicians. The coalition plans to meet and greet 177 state officials (118 state representatives and 59 senators) by the end of October.

To all states and regions with a ban on fire sprinklers or looking to spread sprinkler education: Join us for a similar effort. Now is the time to invite newly elected officials to your events, whether that’s an open house at the fire station, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, or special training events.  

This post was written by Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting legislation, raising public awareness, and educating code officials and government policymakers on home fire sprinklers. Lia regularly offers his perspective on sprinkler activities taking place in his state and elsewhere.

Sprinkler demo
Are you attending the American Fire Sprinkler Association's (AFSA) Annual Convention and Exhibition, October 10-13 in Phoenix? Do you live in or near Phoenix? 

Mark your calendars for AFSA's live burn/sprinkler demonstration taking place on October 13 in conjunction with the convention. Open to the public, the event compares two structures--one with sprinklers, one without--that are both set on fire. Sprinkler advocates across North America are using these demonstrations to convey the dangerous speed of today's fire and how quickly home fire sprinklers can quell the danger.

Visit AFSA's blog for more details about the event. 

Connecticut Fire Sprinkler CoalitionAs reported on this blog, a father's push for increased awareness of home fire sprinklers following his daughter's death from a home fire has prompted legislation in his state. Taking effect this month, the new law requires landlords to inform tenants whether or not fire sprinklers are installed in a home. The law also requires to tell tenants when the home's sprinklers, if any, were last inspected.

Jeff Block, the catalyst behind the legislation, hopes the new law will heighten the importance and use of fire sprinklers--devices that might have saved his daughter, Eva, from the 2012 off-campus fire in New York that claimed her life. He told a Connecticut TV station that the measure will help parents and their children make informed decisions about where they choose to reside. "I don't want another parent to go through what I'm going through," he told the station. "Anything that you can do to raise your kid's awareness and your awareness, so you don't feel guilty if God forbid something happens."

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Connecticut isn't the only state celebrating a sprinkler victory this year. Read how Delaware also passed a sprinkler law.

Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletterIn the latest issue of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter, read how fire safety advocates are firing back at news outlets producing one-sided, anti-sprinkler stories. 

You'll also find stories on:

  • a housing boom in a state requiring fire sprinklers
  • Phil Tammaro, one of our newest Faces of Fire who is urging the fire service to take a stand in support of home fire sprinklers
  • a new study that calculates the exorbitant cost of treating patients injured in unsprinklered homes 

Don't miss crucial, sprinkler news from across North America. Subscribe to the free newsletter today. Since it's a monthly publication, we promise it won't clutter your inbox.

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