NFPA's Bob Duval, Northeast Regional Director and Fire Investigator (right) presented Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre (left) with the Bringing Safety Home Award at the Maine Fire Chiefs Association Conference in March.
The award recognizes fire service members and other safety advocates who use HFSC's home fire sprinkler educational materials and Fire Sprinkler Initiative resources to educate local officials as part of an effort to upgrade or pass new home fire sprinkler legislation.
Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre has been an advocate for home fire sprinklers for more than 20 years. He wasone of the first to offer incentives in subdivisions for fire sprinkler installationas an alternative to costly fire ponds/dry hydrants. Chief Lefebvre’s work set the stage for a town-wide ordinance, passed in October 2018, mandating the installation of fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes. Since the ordinance passed, more than 200 homes have been sprinklered in Gorham.
“Please, no more talk.” In arecent opinion piecefor The Chronicle Herald, former president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association,Peter Simpson, is adamant that the time for stalling on home fire sprinklers has passed, and the case for them has been “doused long enough.”
Citing the 12 Nova Scotian children who have died in house fires in the past year, includingthe deadly Halifax firewhich killed seven children, Simpson asked, “How many more youngsters will lose their lives before influential political and regulatory leaders take action?”
Once a sprinkler opponent, who voiced the same demand and cost-benefit concerns that other builder groups voice in opposition, the former home builder association president now says, “I was wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.”
Simpson’s stance changed six years ago when he became a firefighter and first responder himself. Referring to the skills of firefighters as well as their commitment, and willingness to put oneself in harm’s way, he wrote, “That’s a commitment most folks don’t fully understand.” It’s a commitment that comes with incredible risk; as he shared (andas theNFPA reports), today’s homes contain many synthetic materials, which burn more quickly and create carcinogens that are likely responsible for the rise in cancers in firefighters.
By contrast, the presence of sprinklers can help save lives and minimize exposure; Simpson shared, “Typical response time is roughly 10 minutes, whereas a single sprinkler head can extinguish a fire in under 90 seconds — saving lives and property, and reducing firefighters’ and residents’ exposure to carcinogenic, noxious smoke, gases and fumes.”
As Simpson calls for change, he wrote would be, “It would be wonderful if just one prominent Nova Scotia builder stepped up and announced, ‘I’m going to install automatic sprinkler systems in all my new single-detached homes.’” He’s urging for lawmakers in Nova Scotia to also do their part by becoming “life-safety champions” and for homebuyers, buying a new house, to ask how their families will be protected from fire.
In case of the deadly fire in Halifax, in the days after the devastation fire officials and local media pointed to the value of home fire sprinklers: “The fire in its early stages would never have left whatever room it started in had a sprinkler system been operating in that structure,” Len Garis, chief of the Surrey Fire Department in British Columbia for two decades also told The Chronicle ina previous article, “and I can say that with absolutely 100 percent confidence.”