A report released this month by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states a lack of fire sprinklers contributed to a high-profile residential fire in Boston that killed Lieutenant Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, while injuring 13 others nearly two years ago.
Welders installing railings on a nearby building caused the blaze in Boston's picturesque Back Bay neighborhood. The welding company did not have the necessary permits for this job. According to the report, conditions inside the building quickly became untenable, trapping Walsh and Kennedy in the basement. Firefighters found Kennedy and immediately removed him. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Walsh was found in the basement, where he, too, was pronounced dead, according to the NIOSH report.
The NIOSH report lists several factors contributing to the fire--including location of fire hydrants and the wind-driven nature of the fire--and also calls out the residence's lack of fire sprinklers. In its list of 15 recommendations, the report notes that "code-setting organizations and municipalities should consider requiring the use of sprinkler systems in residential structures." While the report touches upon retrofitting existing structures, it also underscores the benefits of fire sprinklers in any home.
"Fire development beyond the incipient stage presents one of the greatest risks firefighters are exposed to during fireground operations," states the report. "This risk exposure to firefighters can be dramatically reduced when fires are controlled or extinguished by automatic sprinklers.NFPA statistics show that most fires large enough to activate a sprinkler system are controlled by just one or two sprinklers. Sprinklers also reduces the exposure risk to firefighters during all phases of fireground operation and allows the safe egress of building occupants before the fire department arrives on scene. Finally, by controlling fire development, the risks associated with the potential for structural collapse and during overhaul operations are greatly reduced, if not eliminated."