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We chatted with Robert Nolan, deputy chief and fire marshal for Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, about a landmark ordinance there to start fire sprinklering its new homes. Rather surprisingly, he explains how he worked with the local homebuilding industry to secure the ordinance. 


Read the story in the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter. You'll also find information on:


  • a homebuilder who is sprinklering 15,000 new homes
  • a state experiencing a 40 percent increase in fire fatalities over last year
  • where fire sprinklers are and aren't required in homes, per NFPA 13D


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Feike van Dijk (left) and Noelle holding twins Ephraim ("Remmy") and Sabine ("Beanie"). (From right of Noelle) Zephan, Noah, and Able. Zephan and Noah lost their lives in a 2014 home fire.


We are a society that craves a good story. Whether you're getting them via a Netflix series or books, stories permeate our daily life. We binge watch episodes. We get invested in the characters' lives. We want to know how it all ends. If done right, though, a story shouldn't just entertain; it should get you to feel. 


Every time I see NFPA's alarming statistics on U.S home fires, I see stories, not numbers. There are many people involved in the more than 350,000 reported home fires occurring each year, each of them with their own story of survival, loss,  maybe both. I had a desire to tell a complete story about what follows one of these fires. Rather than only hear about what a home fire survivor has been through, I wanted to feel through their experience. 


We've told bits and pieces of this story before via short video vignettes featuring these survivors. While the videos are well done, they only give snippets into their lives. When initially approached by my colleague/friend, Kyle MacNaught, about creating a podcast series, I wasn't interested. While the podcast is in its Golden Age thanks to widely popular, storytelling successes such as Serial or S-Town, I didn't think something similar would translate well into the fire world.


We had a thought, though: what if we show the public something they haven't seen before? What if we take them on a journey of a person or persons impacted by fire, show the full picture of their new normal and how they have pieced their lives together after something so catastrophic? Like other journalists covering home fires, I, too, usually focused on the immediate aftermath: how it started, who had died, etc. Rarely does the public get an intimate look at how people are faring years after a fire. Are they still plagued by their past? Even more heartbreaking, what is their life like after losing someone to fire? 


We answered those questions and many others in NFPA's first podcast series, "The Survivors."  After having a few initial chats with Feike van Dijk, I knew we had our story's subjects. Injured in a 2014 home fire, the family also lost two of their boys, ages 4 and 2, in the blaze. They've made immense progress in healing their physical and emotional wounds, but memories of that fire are never far from them.


Kyle and I found that out firsthand when visiting the van Dijk family at their Lander, Wyoming, home in 2017. We spent days with the family, their neighbors, their burn care professionals. Via the podcast, we also take a big-picture look at the nationwide effects of home fires, interviewing national experts about how these incidents are negatively impacting the fire service, burn care community, and the public. We also offer solutions to help reduce the effects of these tragedies. We had hoped our podcast told a human story that goes what beyond what you'd find in our fire statistics.


Both of us were honored to learn that "The Survivors" received a gold EXCEL award for educational podcasting by the Association Media and Publishing at their awards ceremony this week. (NFPA's member magazine, NFPA Journal, also picked up a healthy array of awards for its storytelling endeavors.) The award, however, doesn't just belong to us. It belongs to the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, who partnered with us on this podcast; to our NFPA colleagues who offered their invaluable perspectives; and, of course, to the van Dijk family for opening their homes and hearts to us. 


Please listen to our five-part series, and help us spread the word about this important story to your friends, colleagues, and town's decision makers. Via the power of storytelling, we're hoping to help you understand and underscore your home fire problem--and its solutions--to new audiences. 

TV home improvement shows usually marvel at homes with open-concept designs. After all, today's homeowners crave spaciousness. Rarely (if ever) discussed on these shows are the fire concerns of the open floor plan, and safety advocates say it's a topic that should be addressed. 


An NBC news station in Arizona aired a segment on these concerns. Members of local fire departments demonstrated fire spread in a setting mimicking a home with an open floor plan. In under 10 minutes, the damage was evident. The reporter and firefighters noted the fire's rapid spread and "cocktail of toxins" released by the burning materials, particularly from synthetic furnishings.  


Since it seems open-concept designs aren't going anywhere, the report underscores the importance of having working smoke alarms throughout a home. NFPA recommends new homeowners go a step further and seek out homes with fire sprinklers or ask for this technology when building a new home. Having combination smoke alarms and fire sprinklers in a home can significantly cut your risk of injury or worse from fire; the home fire death rate is an astounding 90 percent lower when hardwired smoke alarms and fire sprinklers are present. 

It's as if Tim Dawdy wanted to build a fire-safe fortress. Maybe his reason stems from witnessing the damaging effects of fire during his 30-year stint in the fire service. Maybe he's safeguarding his new home to have one less thing to worry about during his retirement years. 


Whatever the reason, what Dawdy has done to his new home is a lesson for us all. He's taken steps at his Ridgefield, Washington, home to reduce wildfire risks, including the creation of defensible space around his home. He's also incorporated native, fire-resistant plants on his property overlooking a wildlife refuge. (Learn more about preparing your home from wildfires.)


Dawdy, a retired division chief with Clark County Fire & Rescue, has also safeguarded his home's interior. The home is protected with fire sprinklers, a technology that Dawdy has personally witnessed keep fire damage to a minimum. (Read our new section highlighting common questions on fire sprinkler installation.) "It's a remarkably safe building because of all of these different features," Dawdy told The Reflector.


NFPA commends Dawdy for the efforts he's taken at his new home. We hope his retirement is a happy and fire-safe one. 


Photo: The Reflector 

In the Canadian town of Calgary, astonishing things are happening. Brookfield Residential, a developer for the town's newest development (called Livingston), has decided to place fire sprinklers in all of the new community's homes. That's 10,000 single-family homes and 5,000 multi-family units protected by this feature. Anticipating the installations, NFPA was in Calgary in 2016 offering free training on NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes to buiilding inspectors and plan examiners. 


More recently, a live burn/fire sprinkler demonstration occurred at Livingston that reaffirmed the developer's decision. According to a news story on the event, there have been more than a dozen major home fires in Calgary within the past month. "Customers who do buy one of these homes will see the value of the homes, especially when they choose to sell it. There's an embedded value there, with this additional, life safety system," Kurt Kadatz, Brookfield's communications manager, told the news station.


Watch the news clip featuring the new Livingston community and burn demonstration. The clip begins at the 4:50 mark. 

How bad has the fire problem been in Virginia this year? Consider this: since the start of 2018, about one resident has died every four days from fire. State data points to a 40 percent increase in civilian fire fatalities when comparing 2018 first-quarter fire data with last year's. 


"We need to be mindful of the fire risks in our homes," Chief Michael Reilly, executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs told The Roanoke Star.  Virginia's leading cause of fire fatalities this year is careless smoking and improperly discarded smoking materials. The median age of the victims is 70 years old, a reality that coincides with NFPA data proving that 30 percent of fatal home fire victims were at least 65 years of age.


While Virginia State Fire Marshal Brian McGraw stressed the necessity of smoke alarms and fire escape planning, he also made a pitch for home fire sprinklers, specifically to protect his state's aging population. "Our data indicates that older adults are more likely to die in a fire because they lack the ability to exit quickly," he told the publication. "However, residential sprinklers contain or extinguish fires while they are still small and reduce the risk of dying in a home fire by nearly 80 percent."


In May, Virginia joined more than 20 states promoting this technology during North America's first Home Fire Sprinkler Day. "By joining forces coast to coast [during this event], communities debunked persistent myths, helped consumers learn the facts before they build or buy a new home, and urged their local officials to support sprinkler codes," says Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy and president of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. 


Before you can promote the solution to home fires, you must underscore the problem to your public and decision makers. Follow Virginia's lead; use local data to underscore your regional fire problem. (Visit UFSA's database of 2018 home fire fatalities in the news.)Then use our free advocacy resources to show your community how to combat it. 

Indian Hills, Colorado, is weighing a home fire sprinkler requirement, basing the consideration partly on water supply concerns and firefighter response times. 


A resolution to sprinklering its new homes was introduced by Randy Rudloff, fire marshal for the Inter-Canyon Fire/Rescue. He told the Canyon Courier that the majority of new construction is happening outside of the town's water district. Another source for the story stated Indian Hills' mountainous geography impacts its water supply. Home fire sprinklers aid the environment by reducing water usage to fight a home fire by upwards of 90 percent when compared to traditional firefighting tactics.


The news report also adds that Indian Hills has longer fire response times, something home fire sprinklers can address, since the technology reacts immediately to fire. According to NFPA's "U.S. Experience With Sprinklers" report, where sprinklers were present, flame damage was confined to the room of origin in 97 percent of fires. 


The town's fire board decided to table a May vote on the resolution to discuss it further. 

You didn't have to look far to notice one of the stars of NFPA's Conference and Expo, happening this week in Las Vegas. Getting its time in the spotlight was the fire sprinkler, with NFPA dedicating an entire section of the expo floor to this technology. 


This area, called The Annex: Focus on Suppression, featured NFPA experts discussing various areas of fire suppression. On display was a "fire sprinkler petting zoo," where attendees could view the various fire sprinkler heads created over the years. Compliments of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), there was also a fire sprinkler riser display seen in sprinklered homes. (Here's how you can create your own.) A popular, physical takeaway was HFSC's new fire sprinkler prop, a great tool safety advocates can use to demonstrate the simplicity of fire sprinklers. 


Not at our conference? Visit our Fire Sprinkler Initiative for more information on this technology and how to promote its importance in your area. 

Feike van Dijk spoke to a room of mainly fire service individuals about the 2014 home fire that claimed two of his children, Zephan and Noah. He, too, was, injured in the blaze while attempting to save his boys. He can still smell the smoke, feel the heat of the flames. The memories have contributed to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Van Dijk is on a cocktail of medications to help with the pain. 


Medication, however, wasn't a cure-all. He also took steps to address his emotional trauma, steps that go against what he says is "firefighter culture." For example, he highlighted the "silence when dealing with personal problems" and "machismo" persona that doesn't tend to ask for help. Finding that help, however, was what led van Dijk on his path toward healing. His steps and his story were highlighted during his session, "Addressing PTSD in the Firehouse," at NFPA's Conference and Expo in Vegas. 


Complementing van Dijk's path to recovery was additional emotional support services by the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. Amy Acton, executive director of the organization, highlighted these services during the session, including peer support. 


Van Dijk's journey from burn survivor to safety advocate was documented in NFPA's five-part podcast series, "The Survivors." Please listen to the podcast to hear his full story and about the far-reaching impact home fires have had on the fire service and many families nationwide. 

Here's a quick rundown of what you'll find in the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter:


  • We asked our sprinkler advocates to take action on Home Fire Sprinkler Day on May 19, and they did not disappoint. Read our recap of this project, and see photos of the events.  
  • Experts weigh in on how fire impacts unprotected, lightweight construction and upholstered furnishings common in today's home settings.
  • You said you wanted more information from us regarding NFPA 13D requirements. Our website now features insights about home fire sprinkler installation. 


Don't miss an issue of our monthly newsletter. Take a few seconds, and subscribe today! 

I had many burning questions for Robert Nolan, fire marshal for the city of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue. News broke earlier this year that Vegas' city council unanimously approved a requirement to fire sprinkler its one- and two-family homes. Since Vegas is the hottest real estate market in the U.S. (per, this decision will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the safety of its residents. Nolan, his fire chief, and others worked behind the scenes to see this requirement through. I needed to know how they did it. 


I chatted with Nolan on the specifics, and my interview with him appears in the latest issue of NFPA Journal. To my surprise, he and others worked with the local homebuilding association, which in the end, also supported a Vegas fire sprinkler requirement. "At no point did we say [to the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association], ‘Hey, we’re going to steamroll you’—that was never an option for us, and it shouldn’t be anyone’s tactic,” Nolan told me. “We learned, through negotiations, what they wanted and what was important to them. And we were able to deliver on most of those.”


Read how this success story came to be, and let us know your thoughts on these tactics by replying directly to this blog post. 

A bill has been introduced in Albany County, New York, that would require the sprinklering of new, one- and two-family homes and townhomes there after January 1, 2019. The bill references Maryland as a crucial reason why the new law is necessary, stating, "Experience from the state of Maryland, which mandates home fire sprinklers, shows that there has not been a fatality from a home fire in a sprinklered home since they mandated their use."


As it has done in earlier this year, the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs advocated for fire sprinkler requirements on TV. Jerry DeLuca, the association's executive director, recently discussed fire sprinkler benefits with an ABC news station. Using a blown-up version of the home fire timeline produced by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), DeLuca underscored fire's power. 


"Fire doubles in size every 30 seconds," DeLuca told the reporter. "So the expansion of that fire...can be astronomical," he says. 


According to the ABC story, the fire sprinkler proposal goes to committee next month.  


If being interviewed by a reporter, it helps to have visuals. Use the home fire timeline and HFSC's new fire sprinkler prop for support. Also, don't forget to stick to these important talking points.

Scottsdale, Arizona, is well-known for its ordinance to fire sprinkler its new homes, a requirement that has been in existence there for more than 30 years. Home sprinkler naysayers need only look to this report by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition to understand how this ordinance has reduced Scottsdale's home fire losses and led to installation costs well below the national average. 


What might not be as well-known is how this ordinance came to be. Launched in conjunction with this year's Home Fire Sprinkler Day, Scottsdale released a short documentary film and accompanying article about their ordinance. Hear or read the compelling story of how this requirement began with the successful sprinklering of two model homes in Scottsdale. 


“We are a big city and we get looked at and studied all the time,” Scottsdale Deputy Fire Chief Jim Ford, who was influential in the ordinance's passage, says in the documentary. “People come to look at us and ... I’m able to say without a doubt that (residential sprinklers) make a huge difference in how our community is protected.”


Watch the documentary: 

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