The following commentary appeared in the September/October 2018 "member takeover" issue of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) Magazine. Many thanks to NFSA for allowing us to repurpose these thoughts to the fire sprinkler industry from retired Fire Chief Dan Jones, a longtime, fire sprinkler advocate:
As a career fire chief, I have been an active and public supporter of automatic fire sprinklers since the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity tragedy in 1996. I am a believer in the life-saving, firefighter-protecting, property-preserving, and environmentally friendly advantages of fire sprinklers. I serve on the advocacy organization, Common Voices, and I have friends in the fire sprinkler industry.
But. I have to ask all of you some questions.
Why do you sit back and expect the fire departments to do your marketing and advertising? Why don't I see TV commercials for fire sprinklers? Why do I not hear radio spots about fire sprinklers? Why are there no ads in popular magazines about fire sprinklers? Why are there no fire sprinkler ads in real estate sections of newspapers? Don't you believe enough in your product to spend money on advertising? I see advertising for carpeting, house paints, plumbing fixtures, windows, HVAC systems, water softeners, bathroom features, roofing materials, and any variety of other home and building products. But fire sprinklers? Nothing.
I know, I know. I have heard the discussion in your industry that advertising would appear self-serving. Well, isn't all advertising self-serving to some degree? It doesn't seem to bother the smoke detector industry that advertises heavily and touts the potential life-saving aspects of their product, and yet your product is more assuredly lifesaving because it does not require persons at risk to take action to ensure safety.
The biggest problem we have in promoting fire sprinklers is education. Most policy makers, members of the public, and people in the real estate business don't really understand what fire sprinklers do, how they work, the advantages they offer, and what they cost in initial building. A concerted campaign effort by your industry would be key to overcoming that lack of understanding. There are way too many myths and bad information out there in the public domain about fire sprinklers to ever enable us to gain widespread acceptance and, dare I say, demand for automatic sprinklers everywhere we live, work, and play, including at home. We need you, the fire sprinkler industry, to engage in this effort with commercial advertising.
I want you, as an industry, to be more aggressive in promoting your life-saving product. I have challenged some companies in your industry to even educate your employees to a greater degree about their involvement in saving lives. Make your employees advocates for fire sprinkler protection as well. Help them understand that they play a part, every day, in saving lives and property. That would be a huge boost to your employee's self-worth and morale and they can help educate others. Please let them know that their work is part of fire protection efforts to save lives.
Let's get back to the lack of advertising. There can be no industry related to homes and buildings that has access to more dramatic video proving the value of your product than the fire sprinkler industry. Anyone who has ever observed side-by-side burn demonstrations can attest to that. You also have access to overwhelming data about the effectiveness and reliability of your product. And, you have the testimonial of the fire service, one of the most trusted public institutions in our society, at your disposal. Surely you could find some room in your profit margins to fund an advertising campaign?
The NFSA and other organizations are doing all they can with the resources they have, but it will take much more to make the kind of impact I envision. It's time to create a marketing plan on how dollars will be used to promote retrofit and residential sprinklers and raise the money to do it.
Your industry has the answer. So, what is it going to take to get you to advertise the best fire protection technology available? You have to get into the public awareness, and the only way is through major advertising. You rely way too much on code enforcement to provide your business opportunities instead of promoting your business. Stop depending on us in the fire service to be your marketing arm. You can advertise as individual manufacturers or installation companies, or you can combine your dollars as an industry and advertise the product and its effectiveness. It matters not to me how you do it, but please do it. We will work with you to promote the life-saving advantages of fire sprinklers, but we need you to engage.
I want to see the day when every residential occupancy built and any facility that people work, study, have fun, or spend time in is protected by fire sprinklers. I would think you would want to see that as well. It will take a greater public awareness campaign than we have ever seen before to achieve that goal. If my letter makes you uncomfortable, that's good! Comfort creates complacency, and your industry must become more proactive. I am waiting to see my first TV fire sprinkler commercial. Don't keep me waiting too long. People are at risk and you have the answer. So, promote it.