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2018

Following London's Grenfell Tower fire last year that killed 71 people, an English fire safety committee is demanding fire sprinklers in all homes.  

 

A new report by the London Assembly underscored the life-saving abilities of sprinklers and called on new building regulations for this technology, reports The Independent. The Grenfell Tower was not equipped with sprinklers. While the report's committee recommended retrofits in existing buildings, its findings are also the "first steps on a 'road map' towards making sprinklers mandatory in all homes in England," states the article. 

 

"It is crucial that we use the outrage and the lessons of this fire to ensure that every Londoner is better protected from fire in their homes," London Assembly member Navin Shah, who led the investigation, told the publication. 

 

The committee isn't the first to demand fire sprinklers in England's homes since the Grenfell fire; Dany Cotton, London's fire commissioner, has advocated for sprinkler laws, and the Royal Institute of British Architects also demanded sprinklers in all new housing. 

 

As we continue our push for sprinkler requirements for new, one- and two-family homes here in North America, we salute the efforts of our safety advocates overseas. 

NFPA and others have been hard at work making sure your Home Fire Sprinkler Day event goes off without a hitch. To help raise awareness of your local events and this North American endeavor, we've created a series of social media cards that work perfectly in a Facebook post, tweet, or elsewhere. Download the following for your use:   

 

 

If you're looking for text to accompany these images, we have you covered. Visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Day page and download our sample social media posts document under "Event Resources." Don't forget the hashtag: #HomeFireSprinklerDay.

 

Even if you won't be participating in a Sprinkler Day event, please start sharing these social media cards before and during the big day to help highlight this endeavor. 

The following commentary was written by Michael Lowe, senior instructor at the Delaware State Fire School and member of the Delaware Fire Sprinkler Coalition:

 

I would like to express some thoughts regarding the recent fire that took place on Sand Dune Drive, in Rehoboth Beach, which destroyed two homes. I have friends whose lives were at risk the morning of March 13th. Why? Because of the belief that a tragedy would happen to someone else. Why? Because someone bought into the myths that residential sprinklers are expensive, not necessary, cause damage, and other misconceptions brought about by opponents of residential sprinkler installation. 


According to NFPA, in 2016, 475,500 structure fires occurred in the U.S., resulting in 2,950 civilian deaths and causing $7.9 billion in damage. Despite these statistics, the American public ignores the dangers and fails to take proper precautions to prevent these tragedies from occurring. Part of this attitude is a result of what experts determine as “the American Paradigm." This is primarily the belief that the incident will always happen to someone else. Secondly, there's the belief that fires are an unfortunate circumstance when they occur and cannot be prevented.


This is a dangerous way for our society to exist. There are victims everyday that have their lives devastated because of fire. Also, fire is not always an unfortunate circumstance that just happens; they can likely be prevented or at least have the significance of the incident be reduced. Improvements can be made by changing attitudes and behaviors.

 

It all starts with preparation. Having working smoke alarms (and regularly checking them) along with practicing escape planning will greatly reduce your chances of dying in a fire. The use of home fire sprinklers dramatically reduces fire's risks of death and property loss, despite misinformation being circulated by opponents of this technology. For instance,

the home fire death rate was 90 percent lower when fire sprinklers and hardwired smoke alarms were present, according to NFPA.


Considering all these facts, I find it totally irresponsible that a residential fire like the one on March 13 at Rehoboth Beach could have taken place with today’s resources available. Home fire sprinklers may have contained the fire to a small area. To think this would have prevented the loss of two homes and damage to others tells me this is not an unfortunate act of God but a preventable occurrence.

 

I plead with my fellow citizens: stay informed, take responsibility, and help future prevent incidents from occurring. 

 

This commentary was edited and condensed.

NFPA has unveiled a startling statistic when comparing today's home fire death rate with the rate nearly 40 years ago. And it's one every fire sprinkler advocate and decision maker should know.

 

For more information on this statistic, read the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter. There's also stories on: 

 

  • how Las Vegas and Rock Island, Illinois, are both celebrating key fire sprinkler victories
  • new resources to make your Home Fire Sprinkler Day event a success
  • TV's "This Is Us" prompts PSA on home fire sprinklers

 

Not getting this monthly newsletter in your inbox? We can fix that. Contact our Fire Sprinkler Initiative team and tell us you'd like to start receiving this publication. 

Pam Elliott doesn't remember the flames or smoke. She can't recall feeling any immediate pain from the third-degree burns that resulted from a fire at her home in 1959. What she does remember is a stranger entering her burning home and whisking her to safety. 

 

The real pain occurred years later in college, when the teasing and tormenting began. She had her heart set on becoming a physician’s assistant, but Elliott was told by medical personnel that her appearance “would instill in patients a deeper fear” of doctors, she told NFPA Journal in 2016. “Honey, what happened to you?” was a common query while she attended Piedmont International University. “That’s when I became acutely aware of my appearance,” says Elliott. “I became an angry, snotty, bitter woman."

 

After some soul-searching, Elliott discovered a newfound purpose and has learned to embrace her injuries and life's path. She's now a registered nurse and offers her support to burn survivors nationwide. This year, the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors honored her with its Advocacy Award, which recognizes individuals whose actions have brought greater awareness to the burn community.

 

Elliott has also been a vocal advocate for home fire sprinklers in North America; last month she shared her story at British Columbia's first residential sprinkler summit in February and has lobbied legislators to pass sprinkler requirements. 

 


NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative team congratulates Elliott on her accolade. Check out the "survivor stories" section of our website for more inspirational stories of those impacted by home fire. 

It's not too surprising that Peter Simpson likely irked the fire service. As the former head of two Canadian homebuilding associations, he admits to constantly battling safety advocates who pushed for home fire sprinklers. At city council meetings, he would slam sprinkler requirements, citing his industry's long-held belief that this technology is too costly.

 

"Never did I — or anyone who knew me, for that matter — ever imagine me writing this next sentence: Automatic fire sprinkler systems save lives, protect property, and preserve the environment," Simpson stated in a recent commentary appearing in the South Shore Breaker. 

 

Joining a volunteer fire department was the catalyst for Simpson changing his tune. Literally and figuratively stepping into a firefighter's shoes--"I can’t imagine what goes through their minds following a fire scene where there are fatalities," he states--has prompted a newfound respect for a fire sprinkler's role. 

 

Read Simpson's column. NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative team commends him for becoming a vocal ally and advocate.

Members of the real estate industry might have not-so-positive views on home fire sprinklers based on what they may have heard or seen. With its long list of inaccurate portrayal of sprinkler activations, Hollywood certainly doesn't help our case. The reality is that home fire sprinklers can be a strong selling point of a home.   

 

Helping to set the record straight is an article on sprinklers catered to this industry. Titled "House fires: less than two minutes to survive," a 2017 story in the Realty Times accurately discusses how home fire sprinklers combined with working smoke alarms and escape planning can be a resident's best defense against the damaging effects of home fires. 

 

"What do you know about home fire sprinklers that you are positive is true?" the article states. "Hollywood has mislead us again. We've seen movie heroes hold a flame to a sprinkler head to set off all the sprinklers on the floor or in the building. Big myth." (Here are others.)

 

Another potentially unclear aspect is when fire sprinklers are required in new homes. Though a provision in all U.S. model building codes, "the unfortunate reality is a number of jurisdictions have removed the provision for home fire sprinklers in their adoption process for their building code," NFPA's Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy, said in the article. "The model code is the minimum level of safety and a jurisdiction that decides to take that [sprinkler] requirement out is in fact allowing substandard homes to be built in that community."

 

Please help members of your local real estate industry learn how they can market home fire sprinklers. Forward them NFPA's information on the benefits of this technology and additional information from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

The public might have trouble believing how quickly today's home fires can become deadly until they see one firsthand. Here's some pretty convincing evidence that you can share with them. 

 

The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition has released new video footage of an actual fire inside a home (including a timecode) and its impact on its contents. The videos also showcase a fire inside a similar home protected by fire sprinklers. The results are night and day. 

 

The videos are available on YouTube and available for download. Use them: 

  • on social media and share with your network 
  • during a presentation to your town's decision makers or public
  • by embedding the video on your company, department, or organization's website

 

Watch one of the new videos: 

Home Fire Sprinkler Day is rapidly approaching. To make sure your May 19 event is a success, NFPA and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition have produced a series of new resources. They include:

 

  • Sprinkler Day tactics and talking points documents. We've given you some ideas on creating buzz for your event and promoting it to your local media. We've also given you some sticky talking points to share with the public and media the day of the event. 
  • Sample, social media posts. Start promoting this North American event--and your event--now by using our social media templates. And don't forget to use the hashtag #FireSprinklerDay whenever you can! 
  • Social media cards. We've created four social media cards (images, like the one in this post) that can accompany your social media posts. 
  • News release template. You want the media at your event, right? Make sure to invite them. Use our template to let them know that an event is occurring in your town. 

 

Please start planning your event if you haven't done so already, and use these new resources for assistance.  

It's always nice to read about home developers--either in North America or elsewhere--who grasp the necessity of fire sprinklers. A New Zealand developer, for instance, recently went on the record with his decision to place this technology into his new development's homes. He credits his dad, a former fire service member, for his decision. 

 

"I was taught from an early age what sprinkler systems were and how they helped people," Rob Davies told the Rotorua Daily Post, adding that he's able to install sprinklers for under $500 per home. "Fire deaths in homes are devastating and more so when we learn that much can be done to lower the death rate."

 

Davies isn't the only one pitching for sprinklers in New Zealand; mirroring exact arguments for sprinklers heard in North America are members of the Rotorua Fire Brigade. They also told the publication that "ugly sprinkler heads" are a thing of the past and they "definitely" recommend sprinklers for all new buildings. 

 

A tip of the hat to New Zealand sprinkler advocates publicly praising this technology. Please join them by using the resources found in NFPA's free fire sprinkler advocacy toolkit.

Did you know that if you have a reported fire in your home, you are more likely to die in that fire today than nearly 40 years ago? 

 

This shocking fact comes from NFPA's Research and Analysis Division. Yes, there have been tremendous strides in reducing the U.S. home fire problem; smoke alarm use, public education, and code enforcement efforts have contributed to a decline in home fire deaths. For instance, in 1980, there were about 5,200 home fire deaths. In 2016, that number has decreased to about 2,700. 

 

However, the number of home fire deaths per 1,000 fires (also known as the home fire death rate) in one- and two-family homes has remained consistent, and seemed to have increased a bit. When comparing the home fire death rate in 1980 with the rate in 2016, that's exactly what happened. 

 

In her column for NFPA Journal, Lorraine Carli points to a new home's unprotected, lightweight construction, open floor plans, and synthetic furnishings as the culprit for the higher fatality rate in homes. "[The home fire death rate comparison] clearly states the problem and shows why the solutions we advocate for are so critical," states Carli, NFPA's vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. "Without adequate smoke alarms, home fire sprinklers, and a public educated about these facts, we cannot hope to change the trend anytime soon."

 

These crucial statistics are what's needed to prompt our audiences to take action and raise awareness about a nationwide problem. Read Carli's column for more on this topic.

First, there was the news earlier this year that the new U.S. tax law allows for the incentivizing of fire sprinkler installations. Then, small town Rock Island, Illinois, and big town Las Vegas passed requirements to sprinkler their new homes. Now, Hawaii is following suit.  

 

An article from the Pacific Business News reports that the Honolulu City Council has passed incentives for installing fire sprinklers in high-rises. The decision follows a fire last year at the Marco Polo apartment building, which was unsprinklered. Four people died from the incident. According to the article, a tax credit is given if sprinklers are either installed throughout a high-rise or throughout the building's common areas. Owners would also be exempt from building permit fees for fire sprinkler installations. 

 


Please help us build on these crucial sprinkler successes; use our free resources to start advocating for a residential sprinkler requirement in your region. 

Rock Island, Illinois, Fire Marshal Greg Marty (left) and Fire Chief Jeff Yerkey

 

Rock Island (population: 39,000) is a town within the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa. This Illinois gem distinguished itself from its neighbors last year by passing a requirement to sprinkler its new homes. I recently interviewed Rock Island's fire marshal, Greg Marty, about tactics that led to the passage and how he and local sprinkler supporters have responded to pushback from the homebuilding industry. 

 

NFPA: You have been a fire sprinkler advocate for years. How has your position on sprinkler requirements been received by your local decision makers? 

 

Greg Marty: We hired a new fire chief [Jeff Yerkey] about two years ago. He very strongly believes in [sprinklers]. His thesis for his master's degree was on the use and benefits of residential sprinklers. So he was definitely an advocate for it. Once we presented [fire sprinklers] to our city manager, he also was very much in favor of it. 


The other thing that's unique about Rock Island from some of the other cities is that our relationship with our building department is outstanding. We don't work in opposition to each other; we work side by side. Our building official was also in favor of this. A lot of building officials come out of the trades and they'll fight [sprinklers]. But our building official definitely saw the need, since his father is a retired fire chief. 

 

How did you go about pushing for a requirement? 

We had a meeting that included the mayor and city manager. The meeting was to discuss the building code update. And that's where the fire chief and I said that we want to adopt the editions of the building and fire code as a whole. We don't want to make any changes. We believe it was written by experts. It's a consensus code that's been voted on by people not only in the fire service but also in the building trades. 

 

What was their reaction?

We explained studies that show [new homes] collapse faster in fire. People have less time to escape. We basically explained to them that you can't allow houses to be built this way but then pull out the protections that are in place to protect these structures. At that point, they basically got on board and said, "We can explore this." So the next step was a study session where the fire chief and the building official presented to all council members. It was a study session, not a general council meeting, but it was an open meeting. 


At that meeting, they talked about testing, maintenance, and upkeep, so we talked about the two different systems that are available in Illinois--standalone or the multipurpose. They learned how easy and inexpensive sprinklers can be. 

 

How did this education aid your efforts?

The council members are not experts in all the areas of city government, and that's why they rely on the fire chief and others to basically educate them on the issues before they vote on them. So we thought it was important, before [the sprinkler requirement] was debated openly, to dispel some of the myths and rumors. The education was very important to basically have them understand what they were voting for.

 

I'm assuming the issue of installation costs came up during the study session or afterwards. 

We used publish documentation, most of which came from NFPA. We cited the national average of $1.35 per sprinklered square foot. We explained that labor costs aren't the same all over the country, so there could be fluctuations. 

 

When the city council voted in November to approve the building code update and sprinkler requirement, is that when you heard from sprinkler opponents?

It didn't honestly become an issue until after the new year. That's when the pushback really came. We saw the president of the Quad City Area Realtor Association on TV and radio shows. They were taking whatever avenue they could. They were saying the requirement is going to kill growth. They were citing sprinkler installation costs of $4.26 per square foot. Once the pressure really came, we went out and got bids. We looked at houses that had been built here in the city, and we went out and got bids for them. One of those came in at $1.63 a square foot. A news reporter also did a great job with a story on why the fire department believes we need a requirement. She went out to sprinkler companies. A gentleman that actually owns a sprinkler company gave her an estimate of one to two dollars per sprinklered square foot. 

 

I've read news stories stating that Realtors and homebuilders were never invited to the table when your city was discussing a sprinkler requirement. Is that true? 

That's one of the things that's been cast against us pretty harshly. "We were never told that you're doing this. We were never invited to the table." Well, I'm a regular member of our local chapter of the International Code Council. It includes building officials, fire officials, Realtors, builders, suppliers. We meet once a month. Anytime the subject of sprinklers has come up over the last five years, we've made it very clear that when we do go to this new code, we're going to keep this provision in. We thought we did our due diligence to make it publicly known that we're upgrading to the new code, and our intentions were very clear.

 

What advice would you give other sprinkler advocates currently pitching a fire sprinkler requirement in their region? 

The thing I would recommend is not only educate the lawmakers about all the benefits. Educate them on the pushback they're going to get. I think we should have been clearer. I think we really should have told them, "This is what they're going to say. We already know their arguments. Here is the data to basically counter it."

 

With your city and the city of Las Vegas passing a fire sprinkler requirement for new homes around the same time, what do you think this says about the future of this technology in North America? 

Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. What that tells us is this: if lawmakers in an area that's already building, that already has massive growth, are not fearing that sprinkler requirements are going to hurt their residential growth, then smaller cities like ours shouldn't be concerned, either. 

 

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Fred Durso, Jr., communications manager for NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

Fire Chief W. Keith Brower heard the mayday call as he was approaching the scene of a home fire in 2008. The thought that a member of his crew was in danger filled him with dread. “When the mayday was called, I was approximately seven to eight miles out, and my heart stopped,” Brower told NFPA. “I feel a sense of personal responsibility to get them home safely to their families and loved ones." 

 

As his firefighters entered the burning house, a fireball erupted on the first floor, trapping them upstairs. The flashover was so intense, their hose line burned in two. Fortunately, the four firefighters escaped the burning home, but one sustained serious burns and his injuries forced him to retire.

 

“When I see this firefighter, I don’t know what to say,” said Brower. “I really feel awkward saying” Hey, how’s it going?‟ because I know how it’s going. He’s partly incapacitated. He can’t do the job he loves.”

 

In Brower's opinion, fire sprinklers are the answer to end these tragedies. As one of NFPA's Faces of Fire, he has been a staunch, sprinkler advocate for years. Brower was recently honored for these and other life-safety efforts; he received the 2018 Governor's Fire Service Award for Career Fire Chief of the Year. 

 

Retiring this spring, Brower has served Virginia's Loudoun County for 44 years and has been an advocate for fire prevention throughout the state and country, states a recent news article. His support for home fire sprinklers and "engagement with many national organizations is unprecedented," states the article. 

 

NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative team congratulates Brower on his accolade, and wishes him a happy retirement. 

 

Watch the video Brower recorded for NFPA's Faces of Fire campaign that underscores his support for home fire sprinklers: 

 

NFPA staff, members of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), and organizers for British Columbia's first fire sprinkler summit showcase HFSC's new, hands-on home fire sprinkler prop.

 

Canada isn't taking its home fire problem lightly. Advocates there have been engaged in a growing, grassroots movement aimed at ending fire tragedies at home. In 2016, they hosted the country's first sprinkler summit that included members of the homebuilding industry and soon after established Canada's first fire sprinkler coalition in British Columbia. 

 

Adding to these successes was British Columbia's first sprinkler summit in February. The event was hosted by the Fire Chiefs' Association of British Columbia, which is a member of the British Columbia Fire Sprinkler Initiative (the province's coalition). Approximately 150 attendees--fire service members, building officers, politicians, insurers, and others--were educated on home fire sprinklers.

 

At the event, attendees learned about a new study that underscores Canada's home fire problem and the impact of fire sprinklers. For instance, one important finding from study was the death rate per 1000 reported residential fires was more than three times as high in fires with no sprinklers as in fires with sprinklers present. 

 

Organizers also distributed a new, hands-on tool by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition that includes an actual fire sprinkler head and information on this technology. The prop is meant as a show-and-tell for the media and the public.  

 

See what the British Columbia Fire Sprinkler Coalition has been up to by visiting its webpage.  

Via a series of emotional episodes, NBC's hit series, "This Is Us," placed home fires--a crucial focus for NFPA--into the national spotlight. Some episodes accurately portrayed safety concerns sadly seen all too often (nonworking smoke alarms) while others took creative license in dramatizing appliances that are less of a fire concern (e.g., slow cookers). 

 

Taking the home safety message a step further, advocates in New York were able to weave in a plug for home fire sprinklers. The New York State Association of Fire Chiefs (NYSAFC) launched a public service announcement the night of the Super Bowl on how the home fire featured in the episode happens across North America "all too often."

 

"Sprinklers are the big three: safe, reliable, and a wise investment," says NYSAFC Executive Director and CEO Jerry DeLuca in the PSA. NYSAFC is also a member of the New York Fire Sprinkler Initiative. Watch the full video, and let us know what you think in the comments section:

 

 

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