I met Jeff Bolsinger during an NFPA video shoot in February. Mild-mannered and friendly, Bolsinger willingly participated in a case study on the new Homestead at Hartness development in Greenville, South Carolina, where all 140 of its homes are fully sprinklered. He admitted he wasn’t knowledgeable about fire sprinklers before becoming a Homestead resident last August, but was slowly understanding why they’re backed by his local fire department.
A couple months later, I emailed Jeff to thank him for his contribution and to alert him of the completed case study. That’s when he opened up about his family tragedy. About 20 years ago, his wife, Terri, lost her father, grandmother, and teenaged brother from a fire in their Florida home. Investigators speculate that an unattended cigarette was the culprit of the fire, which quickly trapped them in the house. There was no exiting the front door or side door,” Jeff told me during a recent phone interview. “The back door wasn’t accessible. The fire had blocked the exits. They couldn’t get out of the windows. They were trapped. By the time the fire trucks were there, it was over.”
Following the tragedy, Jeff and his family grappled with the fragility of human life. “Losing family members not from health issues is hard,” he says. “You think about what you should have done and could have done.”
Even though Jeff, his wife, and two teenaged children live in a sprinklered home, he can’t help but wonder how a fire might affect them if they didn't have this protection. “We have one stairwell,” he said. “Now, I think about a fire evacuation. There’s no easy way to exit the upstairs [if the stairway is compromised] unless you jump [from the windows].
“I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want them in your home. I’m an advocate now. When I build a house, I’m going to install them. If people aren’t going to think about how to protect themselves in this fashion, maybe the government should take a closer look at mandating it.”
As for the sprinklers in his home, Jeff has given them a nickname: His family’s “guardian angels.”