The following was written by NFPA blogger Rick Ennis:
After writing six blog posts, I wanted to pause to reflect. If you have been a regular reader, thanks! Hopefully, you have caught on to the theme the first six blogs were intended to create.If you haven’t been a regular reader, I would encourage you to read my previous posts in the order they were written.
I have received some very positive feedback and constructive criticism. Some feel that I am merely stating the obvious and really not recommending how to resolve any issues. I would like to take this opportunity to address these points.
First, to those who feel I am merely stating the obvious: I agree, I am. And, that is why I am so frustrated with the status quo. Allow me to give you two examples. First, following the fatal house fire in Van Buren, New York, that took the life of two-year-old Nora Lamirande, I wrote a piece that I emailed to several fire service leaders. [Editor’s note: we posted the commentary on this blog, and it became the top viewed post of 2015, garnering more than 23,000 views]. I was honored that several of the leaders took the time to reply, but their replies were tempered. One reply was from a prominent fire researcher who, in response to my suggestion that computerized fire modeling be run on the Van Buren fire to show how a fire sprinkler could have changed the fire dynamics, correctly advised me that enough research has already been done to prove the effectiveness of fire sprinklers. He stated the problem is a political issue, not a matter of technology or a question of effectiveness. I agree.
Second, during a recent forum tackling pertinent issues facing the future of the fire service, I had the opportunity to suggest that fire sprinklers be given more attention by fire service leadership as a fire suppression and firefighter-safety issue. The highly respected panelists also agreed we are well past the discussion about whether fire sprinklers are effective. They said the discussion needs to be focused on how to better legislate home fire sprinklers. The discussion quickly segued to other topics.
If the effectiveness of fire sprinklers is so obvious (I agree it is), then why are home fire sprinklers only the norm in two states and a handful of communities nationwide? Why does a two year old die from fire in a new home and no one seems to care?
This brings me to the feedback I’ve received about not making any useful suggestions as to how to resolve the issue. On this point, I respectfully disagree. However, I am obviously failing at clearly communicating my point. So let me try again: I believe fire sprinklers have, for too long, been seen as a code-enforcement issue and left to the small percentage of the fire service that is considered to be on the “prevention side” of our noble profession. “Suppression people” are far too busy discussing real issues—the latest firefighting tactics, firefighter-safety issues, or customer service delivery method—to be bothered with home fire sprinklers. As a result, the fire service’s collective voice in the discussion has been relatively faint.
To resolve this issue, here’s my call to action: fire service leadership, organizations, groups, fire chiefs, fire service media, fire service training entities, and others made up primarily of “suppression people” at heart (like me) must start advocating for home fire sprinklers. These devices are a top fire-suppression tactic, a firefighter-safety issue, and the best fire suppression delivery model available.
If the entire voice of the fire service is unified, the political tides can eventually be turned. If we claim to know the obvious, then let’s truly act upon the obvious. If we are going to attempt to deal with fire dynamics in the modern built environment, then we need to ensure fire suppression is built into that environment. If we are going to claim to revolutionize the way we fight fires, then let’s do it now. Don’t worry suppression folks – there will still be plenty of fires to fight in the process.
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. Read all of Ennis' blog posts written for NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative.