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2016

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Just how quickly do home fires become deadly?

 

The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) has developed a new home fire timeline to show growth of a fire with and without fire sprinklers. During the first 90 seconds after the fire starts, the smoke alarm activates and heat from the fire activates the sprinkler. Without sprinklers, the odds of escaping decrease quickly as flashover can occur in three to five minutes. Designed to be a teaching tool, the timeline includes report of fire, dispatch, response to fire, set up, and fire hose activation.

 

Download the new timeline and use this eye-catching tool during your outreach. Also, discover all of the effective--and free--resources created by HFSC by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

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The new home where a September fire killed a six year old. Photo: The Hartford Courant


A six-year-old girl from Connecticut recently died in a fire in a home built only months ago. Her mother is in serious condition. The incident negates persistent claims made by fire sprinkler opponents that smoke alarms and other safety features “offer adequate protection from fire” and home fire sprinklers are not necessary since “today’s fire deaths and injuries are happening in older homes.”

 

Built by a local Habitat for Humanity chapter this year using lightweight construction materials and occupied by the family in July, the Connecticut home had at least one working smoke alarm, according to news reports. Moreover, had this home’s construction followed requirements found in all U.S. model building codes—specifically, a requirement to sprinkler new dwellings that has appeared in every edition of these codes since 2009—it should have been sprinklered.

 

Mirroring action occurring across North America, sprinkler opponents in Connecticut have made a convincing—and oftentimes inaccurate—pitch to state and local decision makers that have kept fire sprinklers out of new homes. “Nobody is dying in new homes from fires,” stated Bill Ethier, CEO of Connecticut’s Home Builders and Remodelers Association, in a 2015 essay penned in response to proposed legislation to sprinkler the state’s new homes. (His full essay is attached to this blog post.) “Sprinklers in new homes will not save the lives proponents claim.

 

“[This technology] is an astronomical cost to save a life.”

 

“This type of logic is misguided and infuriating,” says Jim Pauley, NFPA’s president and CEO. “Time and again, our data proves the majority of America’s fire deaths are occurring at home, old and new alike. Research also confirms that fire sprinklers are a cost-effective component to new homes that can eliminate these tragedies. They are the solution to our home fire problem. To assume that fire sprinkler requirements are merely an unwanted burden to homebuilders with minimal benefits to society places little value on the little girl who sadly passed away, the more than 2,500 others who die each year from home fires, and the thousands of others injured annually by these incidents.”

 

Pauley is not alone in promoting safer homes in Connecticut and elsewhere. “You have an 80 percent rate of getting out of a house fire with smoke alarms and sprinklers and only a 50 percent chance with smoke alarms alone, so there’s a big difference there,” Keith Flood, chair of the Connecticut Fire Sprinkler Coalition, told a Connecticut news station following the recent fire. He is currently working with the coalition to secure home fire sprinkler requirements in his state. “Our opinion is that this may have been a different scenario if the house had sprinklers in it.”

 

Act-Now-small.jpgAs a fire and life safety advocate, please make sure you’re promoting home fire sprinklers at the scene of every home fire and at other events that attract the media’s attention. It’s easy to do—download NFPA’s new document, “Tips on Communicating Home Fire Sprinklers to the Media.” (found under the heading "talking home fire sprinklers").

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Research is again confirming a noteworthy reduction in life safety risks when smoke alarms and fire sprinklers are present at home.

 

Taking a 28-year look at fire incident reports in British Columbia, a new report produced by the University of the Fraser Valley identified key findings when this technology was present during fires. The study, "Life Safety Systems, Fire Department Intervention, and Residential Fire Outcomes" concludes:

 

  • smoke alarms or fire sprinklers were not present in almost three-quarters of home fires, and these fires resulted in more than 80 percent of deaths during the 28-year period
  • there is a "marked reduction" in deaths and injuries from fire in sprinklered residences when compared to fires in unsprinklered buildings
  • the presence of either smoke alarms or home fire sprinklers reduces the fire-related death rate
  • homes equipped with both life-saving technology still required fire department intervention to control the fire but "at a much lower rate than for fires" when none were in place
  • fires occurring at homes protected by smoke alarms or sprinklers are "less likely to result in a death, less likely to require fire department intervention, and less likely to extend beyond the room of origin"

 

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Read the full report for more information, and don't forget to visit the Fire Sprinkler Initiative's research page for additional reports on fire sprinkler performance and benefits.

Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter.JPGIn NFPA's recent edition of its Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter, read how a home fire that killed 10 people has prompted action in support of home fire sprinklers. You'll also read about:

 

  • a new whiteboard video that pitches home fire sprinklers in under two minutes
  • why firefighters are facing more harmful fires
  • NFPA's upcoming webinar on effectively promoting safer homes via social media

 

Our newsletter is emailed monthly to your inbox. If you haven't done so already, take a few seconds and subscribe today.

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Building on momentum taking place in support of sprinklering new homes, a possible regulation in British Columbia aims to give communities the option to make this feature a requirement.

 

Fully supporting this proposed regulation is Fire Chief Don Jolley with the Pitt Meadows Fire and Rescue Services in British Columbia. His community, which has a sprinkler requirement for new homes, was one of the 17 communities highlighted in NFPA's 2013 "Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment" report. This study placed sprinkler installation costs in that town at under a dollar per sprinklered square foot. "I'm an advocate for fire sprinklers in all residential properties," says Jolley, also vice president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of British Columbia. "I think every place where people sleep should have a fire sprinkler."

 

According to a recent news story, the chiefs' association is working with the Office of the Fire Commissioner and Building and Safety Standards Branch on drafting regulation that would give local governments the option to make fire sprinklers mandatory in new homes. Before taking effect, the regulation would require approval from Rich Coleman, Minister of Natural Gas Development and Minister Responsible for Housing.

 

Mirroring data found in the U.S., a study produced by the University of Fraser Valley in British Columbia found that a person was 12 times likelier of dying in a building without sprinklers than in a sprinklered building. A homeowner interviewed for the news story did not need this statistic to convince her she's safer in a sprinklered home. "They're reliable...they're cost-effective...and they should be in every home," said Ashley Pavich, who received a 10 percent discount on her homeowner's insurance thanks to the fire sprinkler installation.

 

Check this blog often for updates to this story.

The-Daughetees.jpgNFPA was recently in New York City filming a new video for our Faces of Fire campaign. For those unfamiliar with this campaign, it's a component of our Fire Sprinkler Initiative that humanizes the realities of fire. (Stay tuned--the new video will be released soon.) While interviewing the new subjects, I was reminded that every home fire has a story. Some of these stories prompt tears, others a smile after hearing how burn survivors found a sense of purpose following something so tragic and all too common.

 

One of the most heartbreaking stories we've ever shared involves the Daughetee family from Tennessee. Their son, Shane, a 24-year-old volunteer firefighter, responded to a 2007 home fire. Without warning, the floor collapsed, sending Shane into the basement, where the fire was brewing. Crews attempted to rescue Shane from the fully involved basement, but a subsequent collapse of the main floor ceased further rescue efforts.

 

The pain his parents endured are evident in their video. Shane's lieutenant also shares his grief when he says, "I don't know what it would have cost to put a sprinkler in this home. I suspect it would have been less expensive than the final cost of Shane's funeral."

 

Please share this video, and if you have any compelling stories of people impacted by home fires that we could highlight via our Faces of Fire Campaign, please email us.

 

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If you're not using social media to promote home fire safety, you're missing out on linking important messages to large audiences.

 

Register for NFPA's newest webinar, "#TheSolutionExists: Using Social Media to Underscore Today's Fire Problem & Home Fire Sprinklers," taking place Thursday, October 20 at 12:30 p.m. EST. You'll learn NFPA's tactics for promoting the fire problem in today's homes; building a large support base for home fire sprinklers, the solution to this problem; enticing people to not only "like" your content but also take action; and developing strategies on where and what to post on social media. Lauren Backstrom, NFPA's social media manager, and Fred Durso, communications manager for NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative, will be your presenters.

 

Register for this important webinar today.

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Just a quick reminder that NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative is conducting a quick survey to gauge the free resources available on our initiative's site. We want to hear from you--what resources are helping you better your fire sprinkler advocacy? What could we be offering that we're not providing? What would aid your efforts?

 

The survey will be closing soon. If you haven't done so already, please take a few minutes today and complete it. We thank you in advance!

How do you get your home fire safety message out to the general public and makes sure it packs a punch?

 

You can try carnival barker-type ads, screaming ads, or ads that mimic ones from car dealerships (no offense, Dad). Or you can try a fact-filled, technical ad that would only be appreciated by fire protection engineers (no offense, FPEs). One of my favorites is this video produced by the Fresno, California, Fire Department, which humorously compares fire sprinklers to an at-the ready firefighter:

 

Missouri-based Virtual Media Group recently alerted us to a new way to spread the sprinkler message. They create “whiteboard” videos, which are hand-drawn illustrations with audio. We recently worked with them to create a residential high-rise public service announcements on fire sprinklers. Since we were pleased with the outcome, we asked them to create one for home fire sprinklers.

 

The idea was to let the company use their creative talents to highlight the fire sprinkler message without tainting their creative process. That was the hard part —allowing them to look at the problem in their own way. At the beginning of the project, we filled out forms listing our objectives and provided facts on today’s home fires. I feel that we came pretty close to allowing them free reign while at the same time making slight changes that underscore the reality of fires and the fire service culture.

 

Though we initially created a version of the video for the Illinois Fire Sprinkler Coalition, we decided to also create something more generic for use by all safety advocates and state sprinkler coalitions. (If you’d like a version of this video with your state coalition logo, contact NFPA.)

 

We want to help you with your efforts to educate the general public! Please help promote the following video--place on social media (if you're logged into Xchange, use the social media buttons below) and share with all of your contacts and anyone that could use some sprinkler education.

 

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.  

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Opponents of home fire sprinklers failed in their initial effort to eliminate the requirement to sprinkler new, one- and two-family homes from the 2018 International Residential Code (IRC). All five anti-sprinkler proposals considered by the IRC Committee at their April public hearing in Louisville, Kentucky, were rejected, but the committee recommendation for Proposal RB129-16--which would place the requirement to sprinkler new homes into the IRC's annex--has been challenged and could be overturned when ICC’s voting-governmental members use online voting to determine the final outcome.

 

We need your votes.

 

The future of home fire safety in America hinges on winning the final action vote. Home fire sprinklers represent our best chance of striking at the heart of America's fire problem. We won the home fire sprinkler issue in the IRC eight years ago, culminating a 30-year effort, and have successfully defended the requirement in the 2009, 2012, and 2015 code editions. Losing this year’s vote would be a terrible setback for home fire safety. In a recent review of agencies that are ICC voting governmental members, many jurisdictions are shown as either:

 

not eligible to participate in final action voting on ICC code change proposals because they have not completed the required annual re-validation process for voting designees, or

not using all of their votes because voters are not assigned to each of available slot.

 

Please see the attached document for detailed instruction to be sure you’ve completed the required annual re-validation process for your voting designees and will be eligible to vote in November. Deadline is September 19, 2016.

 

If you are not a voting member, please help us spread the word about this crucial vote.

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Scholars at Purchase College in New York learned the realities of fire when one ripped through their apartment-style dorms this month. Though nobody was injured, nearly two dozen students lost all of their belongings.

 

Since the fire, safety advocates and the media have weighed in on the state of safety in on- and off-campus housing. According to an editorial published in the Journal News, college dorms built since the mid 1980s in New York require fire sprinklers, and older residential facilities at colleges require this technology only after major renovations. The 2013 Kerry Rose Fire Sprinkler Notification Act--named in honor of a Marist student who was killed in an off-campus housing fire--lets students and parents know whether or not college-owned and operated housing in New York has fire sprinklers.

 

While these efforts help, a sprinkler advocate wants to take safety a step further. "Calling for college residences across New York State to be updated with modern fire sprinklers is absolutely the right thing to do, and will dramatically improve fire safety across New York’s many colleges and universities," Jerry DeLuca, member of the New York Sprinkler Initiative and executive director/CEO of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, wrote in a recent letter to the editor. "But sprinkler technology should also be made standard in new residential construction."

 

The New York Sprinkler Initiative along with other state groups have been urging the state's Fire Prevention and Building Code Council to adopt building codes requiring sprinklers in all new homes. Even though the council decided not to adopt the sprinkler requirement when updating its building code last year, that decision hasn't stopped safety advocates from promoting this technology. "[We urge] the New York State Code Council to...take steps to protect New York residents in their homes. The cost of not acting can be tragic."

 

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Have a child or loved one away at school? Since September is Campus Fire Safety Month, follow these safety tips from NFPA. When considering future housing for them, consider a residence with fire sprinklers.

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"In my 27 years with the Memphis Fire Department, I have never seen this amount of victims in one incident," Lieutenant Wayne Cooke with the Memphis, Tennessee, Fire Department, told local media outlets following a fire that killed nine people, including five children, in a home fire on September 12. Another child was in critical condition at the time of this blog's posting.  "We sincerely pray for this family and for the loved ones of this family."

 

The fire's cause is still under investigation, but Department Director Gina Sweat said the incident is the deadliest single fire in the city since the 1920s. "Nothing in our training can truly prep us for this heartbreaking event."

 

Sweat told a local NBC affiliate that the fire had started in the living room and contained only 20 percent of the home, but heavy smoke had spread rapidly and contributed to the deadly outcome. Once firefighters extinguished the flames in 15 minutes, many become emotional by the enormity of the loss.

 

UPDATE: Since this post was published, the child in critical condition has died, according to a the Associated Press. The Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office determined that an air conditioner's malfunctioning power chord caused the fire. The office is now urging the public to "take a stand against fire" by ensuring homes have working smoke alarms, developing an escape plan, and considering fire sprinklers when building or purchasing a home. According to a recent news story highlighting the office's suggestions, "home fire sprinklers provide the best fire protection currently available."

 

“NFPA sends its heartfelt condolences to the family of the 10 victims," says Jim Pauley, NFPA's president and CEO. "While mourning the loss of lives taken too soon, we’re reminded of how home fires still plague our society. We fully support the State Fire Marshal’s Office in taking a stand against fire. Make sure you have working smoke alarms, practice home escape planning, and consider fire sprinklers when building or buying a new home.”

 

Act-Now-small.jpgDid you know there have already been more than 1,500 media-reported home fire deaths this year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration? See how your state fares, and do whatever's in your power to promote home fire sprinklers, which can end these horrors.

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With help from a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an Illinois fire department gave real estate agents a valuable lesson on selling sprinkler-protected homes.

 

Hosted by the Clarendon Hills Fire Department, the educational event in August detailed sprinkler safety benefits, operation, and insurance discounts that, in time, cover the cost of installation. Since Clarendon Hills is one of about 100 Illinois communities that have an ordinance to sprinkler new homes, this event served as a critical lesson for agents selling these homes. "Real estate agents are on the front line of education about home fire sprinklers," said Tom Lia, a writer for this blog and executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, in an online article about the event. "They are the voice that homebuyers trust when buying or selling a home, so it’s important that they know the correct facts about fire sprinklers so they can point them out as an important fire safety feature in homes."

 

Following the event, some agents asked for another presentation to their entire staff. "They were pleased to learn the actual facts, so they could do a better job of answering homebuyers’ questions and marketing sprinklered homes," said Lia.

 

This training only adds to the strides Clarendon Hills has made in promoting home fire sprinklers. Its chief, Brian Leahy, spent hours meeting with his town's elected officials to address all concerns about adopting a sprinkler ordinance. The town now has more than 700 sprinkler-protected homes. NFPA and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition recognized Leahy for his efforts, awarding him the Bringing Safety Home Award in 2015.

 

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Please tell your local real estate agents that home fire sprinklers are an excellent selling point. Send them these free resources produced by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

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Earlier this year, International Code Council (ICC) members voted down a proposal to place the requirement to sprinkler new, one- and two-family homes into the annex of the 2018 edition of ICC’s International Residential Code (IRC). However, public comments on this proposal have been submitted and will be heard at ICC public comment hearings in October. ICC’s governmental voting members will get the chance to vote on keeping this requirement intact.

 

What's at Stake?

 

The future of home fire safety in America hinges on winning this vote. Home fire sprinklers represent our best chance of striking at the heart of America's fire problem, since they reduce the risk of dying in home fires by an astounding 80 percent. Sprinkler requirements have made it into the 2009, 2012, and 2015 editions of the IRC. Placing this requirement into the code’s annex—thereby making it an option for states and local municipalities—would be a huge setback for home fire safety.

 

Take Action Today

 

ICC primary representatives must validate their governmental member voting representatives by Sept. 19 to vote at the 2016 Annual Business Meeting public comment hearings, or the online governmental consensus vote that follows the hearings. The electronic voter validation site will remain open through Sept. 19. Please make sure your state’s governmental voting representatives are validated by this crucial date and vote in support of safer homes.

 

Please contact NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative team with any questions.

"If building a new home, ask for home fire sprinklers."

 

That's the takeaway from a new commercial produced by the Massachusetts Fire Sprinkler Coalition. Starting this month, the ad will run for six consecutive months on a ABC affiliate in the Boston area. The aim is to convince home buyers to ask their builders to install fire sprinklers, which research confirms won't break the bank.

 

Watch the video, and use the many produced by NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative to convince the public and your local officials that homes built without fire sprinklers lack a significant safety feature:

 

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Last year, New York's state fire administrator initiated meetings with the state's major fire service organizations to identify and address issues plaguing this industry. The nature of today's home fires bubbled to the top of this list.

 

A recent article highlighting this dilemma underscores a few key points:

 

  • today's average home size is larger than homes built 50 years ago
  • the fire load inside homes have increased
  • lightweight assemblies (popularly called "lightweight construction") fails faster under fire than traditional lumber


"The combination of these changes...leads to faster fire propagation, shorter time to flashover, shorter escape times, and shorter time to structural collapse," writes Douglas Gordner, a fire protection specialist, and State Fire Administrator Bryant Stevens in an article that appeared in a newsletter for the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs. This group is a member of the New York Fire Sprinkler Initiative, aimed at increasing the use of home fire sprinklers in hew homes. "This illustrates the game has changed...and we, as firefighters and fire officers need to adjust the game plan to accommodate these facts."

 

While the authors offer tips the fire service can take to protect itself, they also note the "expanded use of fire sprinklers and other direct protection systems will definitely impact fire spread and fire growth."

 

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Are you a member of the fire service? Want to use your voice to exact change in your community and help save the lives of your comrades and citizens? Become an advocate for home fire sprinklers. Learn how by visiting NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative website. We could always use another advocate for the cause.

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