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It's an unfortunate fact that the media doesn't typically crave success stories. Reporters are more inclined to cover stories on destruction, accidents, or system failures and less likely to underscore when something went right. Think about the number of recent stories on catastrophic home fires you may have seen or watched, and compare them to the stories (if any) of people saved by the proper activation of a smoke alarm or fire sprinkler. There's sadly some truth behind the journalistic maxim: "If it bleeds, it reads." 

 

Granted, those stories involving the unfortunate impact of home fires should be highlighted as a means to underscore a problem that isn't going away. However, the solution should also be promoted whenever possible. Simply telling a news outlet that a sprinkler activated may or may not get a reporter's attention. Backing an activation with what-could-have-been scenarios and solid facts may bolster your chances of getting something published or on air. 

 

Here's one example of a "sprinkler save" pitch that works. The story starts with the headline "Redmond's mandatory residential sprinklers saves home thousands in fire damages." Todd Short, the town's fire marshal and member of the Washington Fire Sprinkler Coalition, underscored that this sprinkler activation saved more than $100,000 in damages. If you, too, are able to quantify similar numbers following activations, please share those figures with the media. 

 

Short also ties this success to a fire sprinkler requirement that's been in effect for more than a decade. “With the automatic activation of the residential fire sprinkler system, this fire event was quickly and successfully contained to the garage,” he told a local news outlet. “This is a great example of the benefits of residential fire sprinklers and the reason that Redmond adopted a requirement for fire sprinklers in all newly built homes since 2007.”

 

Please follow Short's approach when sending out a news release on a sprinkler save or communicating these saves with the media.

NFPA has gotten word that two more towns have passed requirements for home fire sprinklers this year. Dayton, Maine, and Washougal, Washington, have joined nearly a half-dozen other towns that are installing sprinklers in their new homes. (Nearby Camas, Washington, approved their own sprinkler ordinance in 2016.) Others that have made the list this year include: 

 

 

 

To all of the advocates you were able to convince their decision makers that fire sprinklers should be a necessity in new homes, we say congratulations. 

“People are at risk of a fire anywhere they live, work, or recreate. But residential fires have accounted for almost all of the loss of life in our community,” Las Vegas Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Robert Nolan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. While those statements are applicable in far too many U.S. cities, the news outlet focused its journalistic lens on the local impact of residential fires.

 

The four-part series, "Valley of Fires," discusses the fire impact and risks in Las Vegas. (The city was placed in the safety spotlight this year for its passage of a requirement to fire sprinklers all of its new homes.) The series tackles the following topics: 

 

  • hotels on the Las Vegas strip are "fireproof fortresses," but the same cannot be said for the pockets of homes in certain neighborhoods
  • a deadly fire spotlights the increased fire risks in the city's older neighborhoods
  • fire inspection resources are stretched thin
  • costs seem to prevent safety upgrades at home

 

Read the four-part series. Are the topics highlighted in this series synonymous to what's occurring in your region? Please let us know by responding to this post. 

Source: WFMJ

 

Five children--ranging in age from one to nine years old--died in a horrific home fire in Youngstown, Ohio, this month. At the time of this post, the children's mother remains in critical condition at a Cleveland burn center after she leaped from a second-story window and roof to escape the flames. 

 

"I don't think she knows [about her children] yet," the mother's friend, Yary Rodriquez, told a local NBC affiliate. "[Those were] her five babies. Her five angels. They were her world."

 

After speaking with Youngstown fire officials, the local media has also reported that there were working smoke alarms inside the residence. The cause is under investigation, but initial findings don't seem to point to anything suspicious. 

 

Smoke alarms are vital in all homes, but the statistics speak for themselves. These devices reduce the risk of dying in a home fire by 50 percent, whereas the death rate is 80 percent lower in homes with fire sprinklers than those without them, according to NFPA. When in the market for a new home or building a new home, please make sure it includes home fire sprinklers. If you need some help from us, please ask. 

NFPA has been developing new ways of letting the public know that home fires should be a serious concern. Simply telling people that home fires are responsible for the majority of fire deaths isn't enough to change behavior. We need to show them the gut-wrenching realities of fire.   

 

We took this approach with NFPA's first, limited episode podcast, The Survivors." This is the story of a family that had a devastating interaction with fire, one that has had a lasting impact. We didn't take a cursory look at what happened to the van Dijk family when a fire occurred at their home; we dove deep into their lives and explained their emotional and physical pain of losing two children in such a heartbreaking way. Their trauma and personal growth following the fire is equal parts devastating and uplifting. And it's a story of a family that we felt needed to be heard. 

 

We were honored that their story got the attention of the Association Media and Publishing this year; it awarded us the gold award for educational podcasting. More recently, "The Survivors" received the top honor in the audio storytelling category by PR Daily's Content Marketing Awards. We were honored to be in the running with big-named companies such as Microsoft and Capital One. 

 

We share this news not to gloat about our accolades but to inform you that this personal type of storytelling is getting the attention of those not in the fire arena. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard from "outsiders" that since listening to the story of the van Dijk's, they've made sure their smoke alarms are working. They've practiced home escape planning. They realize how important fire sprinklers are in new homes. What seems to be seeping in are key safety messages made important by this family's story. 

 

Please listen to "The Survivors." Please tell us how their story impacted you. Please share with those in and out of the fire world. And please--find those human stories in your community that can help humanize fire's impact. 

 

We again thank the van Dijk family for having the courage to put their lives in the spotlight. They have been searching for ways to honor the two boys they lost in the fire. In some small way, we hope the podcast has been one of those ways. 

The Sheridan Press reports that the Sheridan, Wyoming, Town Council voted "no" during a third and final reading on a code requirement to sprinkler its new homes. The council voted similarly during previous readings. 

 

Despite the vote, research efforts on a sprinkler requirement in Sheridan will continue. While installation costs were discussed prior to the recent vote, a building official told the publication that a more comprehensive cost-benefit analysis will be presented to the city council next year. Based on this information, the council could reverse their decision. 

 

Fire sprinkler myths during public hearings on the requirement seemed to have cemented council's decision. A resident told them that "it's not a matter of if a sprinkler system leaks, it’s a matter of when." In actuality, leaks from fire sprinklers were rare.

 

Please understand all of the myths and facts around home fire sprinklers by visiting NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.

The following commentary is from Steve Leyton, president of Protection Design and Consulting: 

 

I read your summary of the Geneva, Illinois, council action and Bill Webb’s comments regarding homebuilder misrepresentations of costs. Please remember that although most conversations are definitely corrupted by misinformation by the National Association of Home Builders and others in opposition [of fire sprinkler requirements], we (the sprinkler industry and advocacy community) have also been understating costs for many years. It is imperative that the sprinkler industry “pull its head out” regarding pricing gouging but it’s equally important that we look at the pricing formula holistically and describe it accurately.

 

Take a 2,000-square-foot-house with a 500-square-foot attached garage in California. Our state has by far the largest residential sprinkler market in the world and it’s highly competitive. Our pricing is likely the lowest in the nation. Most tract product and lower-cost multifamily products can be fire protected for $1.50-$1.75 per square foot in the dwelling units, but let’s use a conservative $2 per square foot for this equation. In California, the garage will be sprinklered, so $2 x 2,500 = $5,000. Two. Dollars. Per. Square. Foot. Right? Except it’s not because the builder is describing that house as a 2,000-square-foot house, not 2,500-square-foot home. The price immediately jumps to $2.50 per square foot. That’s a 25 percent price increase based on semantics. Many (too many, in my opinion) authorities having jurisdiction require audible alarms, so that’s another $350-$500. Now we’re approaching $2.75. And the water district may mandate a one-inch meter over a three-quarter-inch one because it’s a sprinklered home, then possibly charge a $7,500 uptick in the service and capacity fees for that larger service. That's an increase of $3.75 per square foot, bringing the total cost to $13,000, or $6.50 per square foot, an increase of 2.6 times the very generous starting budget quoted by the sprinkler industry. And those fees are often higher. 

 

I serve as chair of NFPA 14, Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems. I’ve been using and contributing to NFPA 13D and NFPA 13R since 1988. I have spoken to fire officials, building officials, city councils, homebuilders, contractors, water agencies, and just about any other stakeholder you can name in this conversation over the course of many years. I’ve met with the Association of California Water Agencies and others about meter pricing. I’m a new member of the American Water Works Association Fire Protection Committee, where I hope we can generate new energy to get the water works community on board with residential sprinkler advocacy and sane policy making.

 

I would love to be part of any effort that is being undertaken to push back on exaggerated claims such as those cited, but it’s important to acknowledge that in many cases the high cost of residential fire protection is due to archaic standards and associated fees that are incurred as direct costs by homebuilders that drive their seemingly institutionalized opposition.

 

What are your thoughts on Steve's comments? Let us know by replying directly to this post.  

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