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2017

Attention film lovers: tired of Hollywood misrepresenting fire sprinklers? Do you get irate when a character willingly sets off a fire alarm, only to activate every fire sprinkler in the process? (I'm looking at you, Tim Meadows.

 

Our friends at the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) are taking action to set the record straight on sprinklers. In a recent article that appeared in their member magazine, Sprinkler Age, AFSA highlights a handful of movies that perpetuate the popular myth that if one fire sprinkler activates, they all activate. The article also points to the website Films on Fire that has compiled an impressive list of fire sprinkler activations in movies that wouldn't occur in the real world. 

 

AFSA is also alerting Hollywood to these inaccuracies. "For every Hollywood inconsistency that [AFSA] is made aware of, it will draft a letter to the studio that produced the film, explaining what was done incorrectly and asking them to be more diligent in the future," states the recent article. "The letters include detailed descriptions of the scenes in which sprinklers are misrepresented, as well as clear explanations of what was wrong with the scene, and why it matters. Often the letters will include the phone number of the studio head's local fire official, encouraging them to contact that person and further educate themselves."

 

Have you seen a recent Hollywood sprinkler activation that didn't make sense? Let AFSA know. And let us know the movie by responding directly to this blog post!

In the latest edition of our Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter, read about a new study featured on “Good Morning America” underscoring children’s inability to wake when smoke alarms sound. You’ll also read about:

 

• an undercover investigation revealing homebuilders inflating costs for home fire sprinklers
• another state forming a fire sprinkler coalition, bringing the coalition total to 30
• a senator introducing an anti-sprinkler bill

 

We need your help in getting this crucial content to the right people. Do you know someone who could benefit from a monthly dose of news catered to home fire safety? Please share this blog and our newsletter subscribe link with them. The more people become aware of home fire sprinklers, the more we can increase  acceptance of this technology.

"I don't think anyone has ever asked me, 'Hey, I'd like to put a fire sprinkler system in my home," Illinois homebuilder Tim Koontz told an NBC affiliate during a recent news segment. "Our position has been that [sprinklers] should be customer choices."

 

However, homeowner Ken Sparrow considers this technology "a must" and not an option after hearing about the damage and loss from rural home fires in his area. Some education convinced him that this addition to his new home was worth it. "The people [in the photo] hanging on the wall are the reason we got this and decided to spend a little extra money to buy this system," he told NBC. 

 

The Quincy Fire Department in Illinois hopes recent, educational efforts will have the same effect on others in the market for new homes. Via a live burn/fire sprinkler demonstration that garnered media coverage, the department is raising awareness of this technology and hopes these efforts eventually lead to the consideration of a town ordinance for sprinklering new homes. According to the news story, the Illinois state fire marshal pushed for a statewide, fire sprinkler requirement in 2013, but withdrew the proposal after fierce opposition. An alternative approach that seems to be working in Illinois is having local communities adopt their own ordinance. Close to 100 towns now have one on the books. 

 

Correcting sprinkler myths perpetuated by the opposition is still ongoing in Illinois. Though homebuilder Koontz claims that "the [fire] department is probably a mile away [from one of my subdivisions], so the response time is going to be pretty good," today's home fires can become deadly in as little as three minutes. 

 

[Through these live burn/sprinkler demonstrations,] I hope people...understand that fire burns very rapidly in your house," Quincy Deputy Chief Greg Dryer told NBC. 

 

Utilize all of our free resources catered to homebuilders. Let them know that building without fire sprinklers is building substandard homes. 

Photo: GoFundMe

 

Media reports from across the U.S. underscore a deadly weekend caused by home fires. Here are the incidents and the people impacted by these tragedies: 

 

Lexington, Kentucky
Date of fire: May 20, 2017

 

Four members of the same family died in a Saturday morning fire. Jeffrey and Nancy Brown, 54 and 59 respectively, and their eight-year-old daughter and son, were killed in the incident. Another child was able to escape the blaze. "Jeff and Nancy were just hard-working, honest, salt of the earth people. Nancy was battling cancer. She was going through chemotherapy," Pastor Rick Burdette of Gardenside Christian Church told CBS station WLKY. A GoFundMe page for the family has been established. 

 

According to reports, fire officials suspect there were no working smoke alarms in the home. 

 

Windermere, Florida

Date of fire: May 20, 2017

 

On the same day as the Lexington fire, an elderly Floridian couple, Ken and Susan Ward, were found dead inside their home. According to a story on ClickOrlando.com, initial attempts to check for residents inside the home were near impossible since the home was completely engulfed in flames. A nearby neighbor said the home looked like "an orange fire ball." Trees and foliage near the home hampered entry to the home, the story added. 

 

"Everybody's in shock," resident Lane Rickerson, who spoke to the couple a day before the fire, told the publication. "It just lets you know that life is short. You got to enjoy every day you got because you just never know."

 

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Date of fire: May 21, 2017

 

Another elderly couple lost their lives to fire last weekend. Cliff Hickman, 84, his wife Annie, 70, were pronounced dead at the scene, according to an NBC affiliate. The fire also claimed the life of their 30-year-old grandson, who was from Iowa and visiting the couple. 

 

According to the news report, neighbors could smell the smoke and hear the victim's screams as fire spread inside the home. "Just a great couple," a neighbor told NBC. "Just really sorry. Just really sorry to see them go."

 

Our region's decision makers need to be alerted--constantly--that home fires are a major threat to all residents. If requirements for home fire sprinklers are not embraced, we will likely continue to see these tragedies for decades to come. Please call or write to your legislators, alerting them to the problem and demand they take action in support of the solution. (Use the points found in this infographic to strengthen your case.) If you are able to tie your pitch to a local home fire, all the better. You can be a change-maker in your community. 

Texas State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy calls home fire sprinklers "miniature firefighters in the ceiling," and we would have to agree with him. 

 

In this new video featuring Connealy, a member of the Texas Fire Sprinkler Coalition, he encourages residents to install fire sprinklers in new homes. Pay close attention to the footage and visuals produced by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (which you, too, can use in your outreach efforts):

 

 

At a recent live burn/fire sprinkler demonstration in Illinois, David Bartley witnessed how rapidly fire can spread. Bartley, though, is familiar with fire's force; in 2005, his home was destroyed by it.  

 

It was "an electrical fire in my son's bedroom," Bartley, a maintenance electrician for the Housing Authority of Champaign County, said in a recent interview by the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB). "I ran upstairs with a five-pound extinguisher. When I opened the door, it ignited a flashback. It knocked me down on my back." 

 

Fortunately, the home's seven children and three adults made it out safely. Looking back on the experience, Bartley says the fire extinguisher, which he never used during the fire, would have been fruitless. "It would have been like spitting on a bonfire," he says. Seeing the sprinkler demonstration only affirmed his opinions on the necessity of home fire sprinklers. 

 

The demonstration was tied to a conference that taught fire safety to members of maintenance and management industries. The event "gave people an opportunity to see firsthand what the danger of a fire is like when they see the power of the fire and the amount of heat it generates," instructor Bob Wetzel, a retired firefighter, told NIFSAB. "Imagine if [that fire] was in a 12,000-square-foot home."

 

Watch and share this whiteboard video urging homeowners to "ask for home fire sprinklers":

 

 

Soon after Pennsylvania passed a requirement for home fire sprinklers, legislative action (initiated by sprinkler opponents) took it off the books. Now, safety advocates there are once again pushing for sprinkler requirements in new homes following a fire sprinkler activation. 

 

A recent home fire in Harrisburg resulted in no loss of life and injury as well as minimal damage since the residence was sprinklered. Had the home lacked this technology, fire officials estimate the damage could have been up to $50,000 or have resulted in death or injury. "We don't care who makes the money, if it's a builder or sprinkler contractor," Harrisburg Bureau of Fire Chief Brian Enterline said of fire sprinkler installations to a local Fox affiliate. "What we know is one sprinkler head is going to save a life and I don't know what price you put on that."

 

According to the story, Enterline and other advocates in Pennsylvania are once again promoting these and other sprinkler saves in an effort to reignite a push for state requirements for home fire sprinklers. The reason for these requirements, they say, is simple. "[The water from a fire sprinkler] is far, far better than having your entire home consumed [by fire] and your family taken away," Enterline told Fox. 

 


Visit the Pennsylvania Fire Sprinkler Coalition page for other ways state advocates are promoting this technology. 

A news story by a Fox affiliate in Minnesota recently went undercover to determine cost estimates given by the homebuilding industry and how it compares to national averages documented by fire safety organizations. 


During the recent Twin Cities' Parade of Homes event, a TV news producer asked a homebuilding representative the cost to install fire sprinklers in two homes. The range, which was documented by the producer while undercover, was from $13,000 for a $700,00 home and up to $20,000 for a $1.2 million home. 

 

Highlighted in this investigation, the national average for sprinkler installations documented across the U.S. by NFPA is about one percent the a home's total construction cost. If adhering to the national estimate, the estimates stated by the building representative would be significantly less. 

 

Lofty estimates for fire sprinkler installations by the homebuilding industry have resonated with lawmakers and decision makers in Minnesota and elsewhere, who typically claim and believe fire sprinklers will price people out of buying homes. "I just don't believe they're necessary in a residential house,” Minnesota Senator Dave Senjem told the news station. "The body of evidence suggests that hard-wired smoke detectors are just fine and adequate in terms of personal protection."

 

Safety advocates vehemently disagree, citing irrefutable data underscoring that America's biggest fire problem is at home. Advocates also note that the opposition spends significant, political dollars in fighting sprinkler laws. For example, according to the Minnesota news story, the Twin Cities Builders Association alone "spent $750,000 on a media blitz, lobbying effort, and a court fight to abolish a state code which had required sprinklers in larger new homes." 

 

"It's a very big frustration because we are playing with peoples’ lives," Chief George Esbensen, president of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, told the news outlet. 

 


Help counter sprinkler opponents by getting educated on the actual costs of home fire sprinklers. Please review NFPA's research on this topic. 

Responding to requests from our advocates, NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative has developed a customizable, PowerPoint presentation aimed at educating your decision makers, residents, and local fire service on the necessity of home fire sprinklers. Our new resource includes information on fire sprinkler performance, current sprinkler laws, research supporting this technology, compelling videos, and ideas for bolstering advocacy in your region. 

 

If you're presenting to a local decision maker or at a public event, the presentation offers a nice overview of today's home fire problem and sprinkler solution. Each slide also includes "notes" that further explain each slide. The presentation can be customized to include state coalition logos and local statistics. 

 

Please download the presentation today, and let us know your thoughts on this new resource by responding directly to this blog. 

Moved by a recent story of a teen and her two parents dying in a home fire, one of the readers of this blog felt compelled to respond. The following commentary is from David Scott, a fire investigator and former police officer: 

 

 I have just finished reading your article on the fire incident that kept Fire Chief Maltby awake all night and I totally understand how he feels. This issue of sprinklers is a 'no-brainer' as far as I'm concerned. The problem is getting politicians on board, and that has been a decades-old problem. I, too, have many sleepless nights over the senseless deaths and injuries of fire victims, and the chief's comments struck a cord.

I was a licensed property appraiser from 1969-1999 and worked on residential, industrial, commercial, and institutional construction, so I am familiar with all types of properties. I became a police officer in 1974 and continued there until 1984 when I transferred into the Office of the Fire Marshal's investigation unit. I retired from the public service in 1999 and went into private sector fire investigation until this day. I have been around long enough to see the development and progression of fire investigation and fire safety issues. There is no simple format to create changes to the building code or fire code of any jurisdiction.

My work has always been in the province of Ontario, where Maltby also lives and worked. The Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) was tasked with training the fire service and as such, it was always stressed that the fire and building codes were then created and updated directly as the result of the fire causes reported by the fire service. We stressed the need for accurate and thorough investigations in order to facilitate amendments to address current shortfalls in these codes. I was introduced to this process while still on the police force and conducting joint investigations with OFM investigators into fire deaths, explosions, and suspected arsons.

In January 1984, while serving in a remote northern community, I was called out in the middle of the night for a double fatality fire in an apartment building to commence a police investigation. The fire was in a 3-story, wood-framed apartment building, and the fire spread so rapidly that firefighters were not able to enter upon their arrival. Several tenants escaped and several were rescued by firefighters using ladders up to the upper windows. Unfortunately, a young mother and her eight-year-old son perished in the fire. I was able to establish that the fire originated in the bottom floor apartment as the result of careless smoking, and the tenant had tried to remove a smoldering couch out his door to a fire door immediately outside his unit. This resulted in the couch getting jammed in his doorway and the fire escape doorway. With the introduction of the fresh air, the couch erupted into flames. 

The fire raced up the highly combustible stairwells and all the way to the top floor within a few minutes, trapping numerous tenants in their units. The Chief Coroner of Ontario ordered a coroner's inquest into the deaths, and I met with him and the Ontario fire marshal prior to the inquest. They explained that they were attempting to implement a major revision of the Ontario fire and building codes but were meeting with resistance from government. The proposed revision was to require the use of fire-rated gypsum board and metal fire doors in all multi-occupancy buildings to prevent tragedies such as this fire. The inquest was held in March and the coroner's jury came back with exactly the recommendations we had hoped for. The 1984 'retrofit' amendments to the codes were enacted. It was also extended to the residential building code for the use of gypsum board for interior finishes.

We all know how valuable this change was in minimizing fire spread and for life safety. It took years and many lives lost to get these simple amendments in place, but they were so effective once implemented. Unfortunately, technology advances faster than our codes, and the plastics-and-foams era began resulting in occupancies filled with solidified hydrocarbon fuels. Fires became faster and more toxic, resulting in another increase if deaths, injuries, and property loss. Our field pushed for the mandatory implementation of smoke and carbon monoxide detection devices in all occupancies and again, after many years and unnecessary deaths, they were finally implemented. They have helped immensely in the loss of lives and property damage, but not enough when we factor in the reduced escape time factor created by the plastics and foams fuels now in our homes.

Several years ago I investigated a fire in a summer home where the owner had stored bags of wood pellets in the basement shelves without realizing he was blocking an electric baseboard heater with these bags. The bags ignited during the winter and upon their return in the spring they discovered there had been a fire in the basement that appeared to have self extinguished. The investigation revealed that the point of origin was where the bags had covered the heater and had reached the open flame stage. The saving grace was that there was a copper water line suspended from the ceiling joist directly over the origin. The initial fire softened the soldered joint in the pipe and created a sprinkler effect that extinguished the fire before it moved beyond the shelf unit, resulting in a $10,000 loss instead of a half-million-dollar loss.

I have since been convinced that every living unit should have fire sprinklers. That fire demonstrated to me that not only will sprinklers absolutely minimize property damage and save lives but will also permit effective identification of life safety hazards in those well-preserved fire scenes.

It is obvious to me that we are witnessing history repeat itself, with politicians burying their heads in the sand to life safety issues until an unacceptable number of lives are lost. Unprotected, "lightweight construction" building materials and other hazards in today's homes have only made this issue more pressing as it now creates a real and serious threat to life for all of our firefighters.


It absolutely astounds me why politicians can't see the big picture.

 


Is your local politician aware of your region's home fire problem and the problem's solution, home fire sprinklers? If not, please alert them. Whether you live in the U.S. or Canada, find out who represents your area, call them, and inform them of your concern for today's home fire deaths and injuries. 

Realizing the benefits of collaboration, Rhode Island safety advocates have formed the country's 30th state sprinkler coalition. The Rhode Island Fire Sprinkler Coalition consists of the state's fire service and other safety advocates aimed at localizing fire sprinkler education and advocacy. 

 

During a recent, kickoff event that included a live burn demonstration (check out the 360-degree video NFPA created of the burn), we interviewed coalition members to discuss the state's home fire problem and necessity of fire sprinklers in new homes. Watch the new video featuring these interviews: 

A new study is shedding light on a lack of response to smoke alarms by children. Underscored during a recent segment on "Good Morning America," the study by U.K. researchers confirms that children have difficulty waking up to the sound of a smoke alarm. In fact, more than 80 percent of the children (ages 2 to 13) studied slept through the sound. 

 

This point was exemplified in the segment. Cameras were placed in a Connecticut home and parents watched as smoke alarms sounded in the hallway outside the bedrooms of their children, one and three years old. Both did not awake. The children stayed asleep when the alarms sounded in their own bedrooms. "I truly thought they were going to wake up, like truly," Lauren McBride, the mother, told "Good Morning America." "I don't really know what to think right now."

 

Research confirms that smoke alarms are still vital components to life safety at home. According to NFPA, three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires where there were no smoke alarms. Moreover, the death rate per 100 reported home fires was more than twice as high in homes that did not have any working smoke alarms. 

 

However, according to NFPA research, there is an increase in fire fatalities in one- and two-family homes where a working and operable smoke alarm was present. The data underscores the point that smoke alarms only go so far in protecting the public from home fires. Only the combination of early-warning detection (smoke alarms) and suppression (home fire sprinklers) can significantly cut the risk of dying in home fires.

 


Please help spread the word to current and future home buyers about the realities of smoke alarms and the necessity of home fire sprinklers. Use this eye-catching infographic to get your point across.  

                                                       

The Wyoming Fire Sprinkler Coalition was a recipient of the 2016 Fire Sprinkler Initiative Bringing Safety Home Grant. The grant was used for a variety of purposes, all of which contributed to what the coalition considers a successful 2016.

 

The main use of the grant was to build three, side-by-side burn demonstration trailers, which are very powerful tools to educate on the importance and effectiveness of home fire sprinklers. Additionally, the money was used to attend a number of open houses, conferences, and trade shows. The grant helped purchase educational tools for use at these events and to enhance display booths.

 

The coalition’s main takeaway from all of these educational opportunities is that most people don’t have a lot of knowledge about fire sprinklers, but are eager to learn about their life-saving capabilities. To learn more about fire sprinklers and find education materials and advocacy tools, visit NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.

 

For more information on the Wisconsin coalition, the summit, other winners, and the grant, download the grant report.

In an effort to transform members of the fire sprinkler industry into effective, life-safety advocates, NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative team addressed this group during the National Fire Sprinkler Association's (NFSA) Annual Seminar and North American Fire Sprinkler Expo in Las Vegas. 

 

During one of the conference's "innovation and information" sessions, NFPA's Jeff Hudson and Fred Durso outlined five steps to becoming better advocates for home fire sprinklers. Since members of this industry have the experience and technical know-how, their voices can be crucial in addressing sprinkler opponents and joining a growing, grassroots movement in support of home fire sprinklers. 

 

Hudson and Durso underscored what is contributing to today's home fire problem and the exorbitant money spent by opponents in killing pro-sprinkler legislation or keeping sprinkler requirements off the code books in certain states. Based on NFPA's findings:

 

  • Three  states/regions require fire sprinklers in new, one- and two-family homes
  • 17 states allow local adoptions of sprinkler requirements in new homes
  • 31 states prohibit statewide and new, local adoptions of fire sprinkler requirements

Hudson and Durso also urged this group to lend their voice to the cause by joining or helping form a state sprinkler coalition. To date, 30 coalitions have been formed with assistance from NFPA and NFSA. 

 

The conference's first day also included a live burn/fire sprinkler demo (pictured above). 

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