The Massachusetts Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Worcester (MA) Fire Department held a live side-by-side fire and sprinkler burn today to educate the public and policy makers about the rapid and deadly pace of fire – and the fact that fire damage can be minimized with home fire sprinklers.
The burn was staged to inform area residents, elected officials, and rookie recruits from the state fire academy about the aggressive and devastating nature of fire. The mobile burn demonstration unit features two side-by-side rooms with living room furniture, throw pillows, curtains and a working smoke alarm. One room contained a fire sprinkler. The other did not. Within 160 seconds, the room without fire sprinklers had reached flashover, while spectators watched in awe and snapped photos. Sprinklers within the second unit went on seconds after the fire started, minimizing damage to the structure and the contents of the room.
According to Michael Young, New England regional manager for the National Fire Sprinkler Association, “Today’s materials, furnishings and interior finishes tend to be more synthetic-based, petroleum-based products. Being petroleum-based they burn just like gasoline and release heat exponentially faster than organic materials so the fires tend to develop more rapidly in one-and-a-half to three minutes.”
Worcester is no stranger to dramatic fires. Nearly 20 years ago, 6 firefighters were killed in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. Fire in New England's second most populous city. Sadly, Worcester lost another firefighter recently in a fast-moving fire in December; and just last week a large fire displaced 14 residents, 7 of whom were carried to safety by firefighters.
Worcester Fire Chief Michael J. Lavoie explained, “Demonstrations like this are way more effective than telling people sprinklers work. The fires that we show up at without sprinkler systems, we use hose lines with 250 gallons of water a minute – and you have a ton of smoke damage, ton of fire damage, ton of water damage; whereas a sprinkler system uses 13-18 gallons per minute in a residential system resulting in less water, fire damage and smoke damage. People need to see this so they get the information that in a 2,000 square foot new home, it’s only about $1.50 per square foot to put in a residential sprinkler system, and it makes that much difference.”
Lavoie went on to explain that there are some cities and towns, not in Massachusetts, that have passed ordinances that new homes have to be sprinklered. “We would love to do it in Massachusetts. It’s not going to put us out of business, by any means, but it will keep the citizens safe and also keep our firefighters safe. We would much rather walk into a fire with a sprinkler system and get wet, than deal with a flashover situation,” the chief said.
Interested in promoting the effectiveness of home sprinklers in your community? Join NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative, the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition-Canada as we celebrate Home Fire Sprinkler Week from May 19-25, with a national media event on May 22. The vast majority of fire deaths in North America happen at home. The time has come to bring attention to this problem--and its solution. Fire departments, fire sprinkler coalitions and other home fire sprinkler advocates are urged to join in with local activities at any time during this week to show the effectiveness of home fire sprinklers.