The following was written by Gregg Cleveland, fire chief of the La Crosse, Wisconsin, Fire Department and chair of the Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition:
If you had a tool that could reduce fireground firefighter injuries by 65 percent, according to NFPA data, would you want to use it? Of course you would. Home fire sprinklers are your tool. Sprinklers can reduce firefighter injuries and save your community valuable tax dollars that your department could spend in a more effective manner.
What are the barriers to using this valuable tool? In Wisconsin, it is the Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC). The UDC is a code that prescribes the minimum and maximum level of code compliance for all new, one- and two-family homes. Under the UDC, local communities cannot require home fire sprinklers in new homes. Since I personally don't see this changing anytime soon in Wisconsin, life safety advocates and I have formed the Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition. The coalition provides education to the fire service, local elected officials, legislators, homebuilders, and other interested parties on the life safety and economic benefits home fire sprinklers can provide.
Several years ago I was fortunate enough to present a program regarding the costs of a single firefighter injury sustained at a home fire. Taking into account the workers’ compensation benefits, overtime/backfill, medical costs, etc., this one injury cost a community approximately $50,000. While there are so many benefits to requiring sprinklers in one- or two-family dwellings, one rarely discussed is firefighter safety. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has identified code enforcement and sprinklers as one of 16 different initiatives that should be pursued to reduce firefighter injuries and deaths.
I would challenge you to identify the occupancy type where your department suffers the most firefighter injuries. I can tell you that from 2010 to 2015 nearly 63 percent of all of our injuries that occurred on the fireground were at residential dwellings. Looking at it another way, 95 percent of injuries at our residential occupancies occurred in residential dwellings without automatic fire sprinklers. Obliviously not all injuries result in time away from work or medical attention. However, it would be helpful to take a closer look at these injures, where they occur, and how much they cost the community. You might be surprised.
We are at a disadvantage in Wisconsin with our mini-max code. However, if we talked more about the impact firefighter injuries from home fires have on our budgets and tax rates, maybe we would see more local elected officials and state legislators taking note of the advantages of home fire sprinklers.
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