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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.


The small community of Spryfield within Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada was overcome by sorrow last month when a usual day turned tragic as seven children died in a fatal home fire in what news reports described as a relatively new home.

In its aftermath, fire officials and local media pointed to the value of home fire sprinklers and called for their use to prevent future tragedies like this one.

Len Garis, who has been chief of the Surrey Fire Department in British Columbia for two decades, told The Chronicle Herald “The fire in its early stages would never have left whatever room it started in had a sprinkler system been operating in that structure, and I can say that with absolutely 100 percent confidence.” There are more than 30 municipalities in British Columbia that require sprinklers in all new homes.

According to National Fire Protection Association research, when sprinklers are present, flame damage is confined to the room of origin in 97 percent of fires, compared to 74 percent of fires in homes without sprinklers. Also, the civilian fire death rate is 87 percent lower in properties with sprinklers than in properties with no sprinklers.

“How many more people must die before Nova Scotia’s provincial and municipal elected officials take steps to make mandatory the installation of sprinklers in all new homes?,” said Peter Simpson, firefighter, to The Chronicle Herald.

The Chronicle Herald then weighed in with an opinion piece calling on Nova Scotia to follow the lead of the 30-plus British Columbia municipalities and the states of California and Maryland in making home fire sprinklers mandatory in new homes. Taking on the cost argument, they wrote, “The automobile industry once argued installing seatbelts would makes vehicles unaffordable. In the end, safety and common sense won out.”

The escalation of the fire can be seen in a unique video captured by a doorbell camera across from where the fire took place.

More information on making the case for sprinklers is available through NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative and Home Fire Sprinkler Canada. For regular updates, sign up for the Fire Sprinkler Newsletter.

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