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.