Skip navigation
All Places > FSI > Blog > 2020 > February
2020

FSI

February 2020 Previous month Next month

The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association (MCOPA) urged release from committee and passage of

HB 2027 – An Act relative to enhanced fire protection in new one and two family dwellings citing its ability to save the lives of the public, firefighters, and police officers.

 

HB 2027 is a local option bill and would allow communities the ability to adopt home fire sprinklers for new one- and two-family homes. The Massachusetts Building Code does not include a provision for fire sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes.

 

It is our professional opinion that home fire sprinklers can change the outcome of future fires and protect not only the resident and firefighters but our members in Police Services.” Chief Jeff Farnsworth

 

The MCOPA Executive Board and the leadership of the MA Fire Sprinkler Coalition had recently met and MCOPA President Chief Jeff Farnsworth felt the coalition had done an excellent job of dispelling myths and educating the board of the life-saving benefits of sprinklers. Chief Farnsworth wrote to Senator Michael Moore and Representative Harold Naughton on behalf of members of the police service. He wrote, “Many times, our Police Officers arrive on the scene of active structure fire situations. Our members do not receive the advanced training that Firefighters receive but they are the indeed the first responders to many of these incidents. The responding Officers are forced into action based on the oath that they take to protect the public and place themselves in harm’s way to save lives.”

 

Chief Farnsworth offered a strong view of the bill and the value of sprinklers by adding, “It is our professional opinion that home fire sprinklers can change the outcome of future fires and protect not only the resident and firefighters but our members in Police Services.”

 

The bill has been filed numerous times in Massachusetts but has been stalled in committee. There are at least 18 states across the country that allow local adoption of sprinkler requirement. Both California and Maryland require all new homes to have sprinklers.

 

Action is pending before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

 

 

New Paltz, New York, a small town in the southeastern part of the state with about 14,000 people, took a giant step forward to better protect their community from fire last month by requiring fire sprinklers in all new residential construction.

 

Mayor Tim Rogers was quoted in the Daily Freeman as saying, “The belief is that if there are sprinklers in homes ... then people will have a better chance of surviving [fires].” He further stated, “It’s a pretty straightforward law, where any new [residential] construction, regardless of the size ... has to put the sprinklers in,” Rogers said. “The studies show that’s incredibly important for property and safety and saving lives. It makes common sense when you have a volunteer fire department, too.”

 

The community clearly understands the changing dynamics of fire today and the fact that new homes, often built with unprotected lightweight construction and filled with lots of synthetic materials burn hotter and faster than older homes. According to fire safety experts, you can have as little as two minutes to escape a home fire compared to eight to ten minutes ago in previous decades.

 

NFPA, as part of its Fire Sprinkler Initiative, has developed a number of resources to help communities successfully make the case for home fire sprinklers.

 

How did I get here?

When you read an average of a half-dozen home fire death stories every day for a month, it changes you. That’s not hyperbole; I did, and it changed me. At the conclusion of 2019,I wrote in my #101Wednesdays blog about the year and decade in review in terms of life safety from fire.While there were several significant advances, I pondered about whether enough was being done to reduce the number of civilian deaths in home fires. The number has hovered between about 2,500 and 3,000 for the last 20 years or so. This is a significant improvement over the number of deaths recorded in prior decades, largely attributable to the proliferation of smoke alarms; but it’s not getting any better. I had to ask myself, “Is this good enough?”

 

To help me understand the problem, I assigned myself a project. On January 1, I started scouring the internet for media reports of home fire deaths and tweeted the results each day with a running tally (you can see them in my Twitter feed at @NFPAGregH – see the hashtag #homefiredeaths). The U.S. Fire Administration’s website was a valuable resource; between their data and my findings, I was able to provide a daily summary of who was dying in home fires every day in the U.S. My goal was to educate myself and to raise awareness. I did so until this past Monday, January 27, when the task became too much; the numbers were so high that it was affecting my ability to perform the functions NFPA pays me to do and was cutting into my nights and weekends. Reading all the stories of loss and tragedy also had an emotional impact on me. I needed to be reminded of why I came to work for NFPA almost 24 years ago. Yes, overseeing the development process for codes like NFPA 101 is important work and ultimately leads to a safer built environment. But I believe there’s more that we – I – can do to make a real difference, and the home fire death problem is certainly an area in which there is room to make a difference.

 

While each story I read over the past month was tragic, there were several that stood out in my mind. This journey actually started a few days before the new year. On December 27th, a spectacular fire destroyed a Concord, MA mansion. This fire garnered tremendous media attention despite the fact that no one was killed or injured. On the same day, a father and his two young daughters died in a fire in their modest apartment in Hemet, CA; this fire was barely a blip on the media radar. The disparity in coverage was glaring.

 

On January 5th, two men died in a house fire in Fitchburg, MA. The fire was blamed on an overloaded power strip (or relocatable power tap in code parlance); coincidentally, the latest #FireCodefridays blog addresses electrical safety requirements in NFPA 1, Fire Code. This fire stood out to me because I grew up in the adjacent town and was a member of that town’s on-call fire department in the 80s and 90s. We ran mutual aid to Fitchburg quite often; that’s where I caught most of my “big fires.” Because of my personal experience, this fire hit close to home.

 

On January 8th, an elderly woman died in a fire in Ellabel, GA caused by a clogged dryer vent. This fire stuck out for several reasons: one was because the victim was elderly, as were several other victims I documented over the month. Another was because the fire was in a manufactured home (or “mobile home” as commonly referred to by the media). Manufactured home fires and elderly fire victims are apparently not uncommon. If you search my Twitter feed for #manufacturedhomefire and #olderadultfiredeath, you will find several occurrences. Another fire in a manufactured home in rural Kentucky killed a grandmother and three children the day before.

 

Another house fire in Kentucky left a mother and her six-year-old daughter dead on January 17th. This fire was noteworthy because it was reported that the home had no working smoke alarms; this is also not an uncommon occurrence (search my Twitter feed for #noworkingsmokealarms). It’s unimaginable to me that people still don’t have working smoke alarms. This will be a topic for a future post in this series.

 

On January 20th, a fire in a Bronx, NY high-rise apartment building killed an 85-year-old retired NYPD police officer. Although not reported, it is presumed that sprinklers were not installed in the apartment of fire origin. The combination of a high-rise building, residential occupancy, elderly residents, and lack of automatic sprinklers seems to be a “perfect storm” with regard to the potential for large numbers of fatalities. Disaster was averted in this fire thanks to the strong work by the FDNY.

 

The home fire death problem appears to stem from a combination of lack of protection (sprinklers and smoke alarms) and an apathetic public. Codes like NFPA 101 can prescribe minimum protection requirements, but we can’t regulate people’s attitudes towards fire; this is, I believe, the biggest hurdle to be cleared if we’re going to lower the numbers of fire deaths. In this series, I don’t expect to have a lot of answers; rather, I intend to ask questions to stimulate discussions to help hone in on the things we can change to have the biggest impact. I figure I’ve got about another 15 years left in this career. It won’t mean much in 2035 to have my name in a bunch of Life Safety Codes if 2,500 to 3,000 people are still dying each year in U.S. home fires as they have been for the last 20 years.

 

Thanks for reading, and as always, stay safe.

The views expressed in #101Wednesdays are my own and do not reflect the views of NFPA.

Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to www.nfpa.org/101 and click on “FREE ACCESS.”

Follow me on Twitter: @NFPAGregH 

 

NOTE: This blog first appeared as part of Mr. Harrington’s #101 Wednesdays blog series on NFPA Today on January 29, 2020.

The nonprofit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) is now offering $500 stipends to 50 qualifying fire departments looking to increase home fire sprinkler education in their communities.

 

The stipend will help pay for materials needed to build displays or demonstration units, or produce educational banners, posters, or other educational materials, to be distributed at events during Home Fire Sprinkler Week, May 17-23, 2020. Requirements to receive the stipend include such actions as:

 

  • Ensuring the event contains home fire sprinkler educational outreach
  • Endeavoring to extend the educational benefits beyond the actual event (such as through local media or social media)
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the events
  • Reporting event summary and evaluation findings to HFSC

 

Looking for additional information to help with your event? HFSC provides free guidance and resources via its Fire and Sprinkler Burn Demonstration Kit.

 

Join other fire departments who have committed to making home fire sprinklers a focus of their community outreach. Complete the application today. The deadline to apply is March 6.

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: