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Each year as summer turns to fall, we see an uptick in home fires from increased heating device use, cooking, and other everyday activities. We know more about how to protect ourselves from fire than ever, but there are still situations that highlight opportunities to do more. Last week, Jefferson County suffered a tragic loss, when a mother and son lost their lives to an early morning fire that engulfed their home. Though Kenneth Roland and his brother successfully escaped, Roland’s brother re-entered the house for their mother. Neither reemerged.

 

According to a 2020 report, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of reported fires happen in home environments. As a result, the importance of working smoke alarms, home fire sprinklers, and an escape plan as a complete fire prevention strategy cannot be overstated. A fire today can become deadly in as little as two minutes—making every second count. Smoke alarms provide vital early detection while home fire sprinklers begin controlling the flames before firefighters arrive. Installing both reduces the risk of dying in a home fire by 82 percent. Sadly, the Roland home had neither. 

 

Every casualty from fire is deeply felt. With continued dedication to safe practices and informing ourselves and others, we can bring the number of these tragedies closer to zero. Fire Department Deputy Chief Stephen Williams is using this horrible tragedy to remind his community to take fire safety seriously by encouraging the public to confirm that heat sources work properly and are well-maintained as we bring out stoves and heaters that have been dormant for the turn to cooler months. He also stressed not going back into a fire for any reason.

 

NFPA also has these reminders for staying safe in the event of a fire:

 

  • Have working smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside each sleeping area
  • Make an escape plan with two routes out of every room and decide on an outside meeting place
  • Practice your home escape plan twice a year in realistic conditions
  • When the smoke alarm sounds, get outside and stay outside
  • Don’t try to fight the fire yourself, call 911
  • If you are building a new home, install home fire sprinklers

This tip sheet offers great information about smoke alarms. To learn more about home fire sprinklers, visit the Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

County commissioners, firefighters, and community members in Hartsville, Tennessee were able to see firsthand last week the value of residential fire sprinklers when representatives from the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) brought a side-by-side burn and sprinkler demonstration trailer to town to promote requiring sprinklers in new residential construction.

The demonstration underscores how rapidly fire spreads in homes and how quickly home fire sprinklers, a requirement in all U.S. model building codes, can extinguish the flames. (NOTE: See a live burn/fire sprinkler demonstration in the video above). New homes today are often built with unprotected lightweight construction and filled with lots of synthetic materials that burn hotter and faster than older homes. According to fire safety experts, we can have as little as two minutes to escape a home fire compared to eight to 10 minutes in previous decades. 

According to an article in the HartsvilleVidette, “Commissioners Watch Demonstration of Fire Sprinklers,” The County Commission is looking at updating the ICC building codes according to the 2018 version, but the state legislature has given local jurisdictions the option of removing the sprinkler requirement in newly built homes.

Commission Chairman Dwight Jewell, who served as Trousdale County’s building inspector until his retirement in 2018, invited NFSA to put on the demonstration. “It’s in the code; we would have to make the decision to take it out,” he said in the article, adding that he supported keeping the sprinkler requirement in the code. “This is for us to have an informed decision so we can make that decision.”

The Codes & Zoning Committee plans to meet this month to determine whether it will recommend requiring sprinklers to the full Commission. The updated residential codes are scheduled to be voted upon at the Commission meeting on October 26.

 

For more information, visit the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition webpages. 

Fire sprinklers are familiar to many of us and many people know they exist in stores, warehouses, and other commercial buildings. But not everyone may be aware of the importance of fire sprinklers in the home. But according to 2019 research, over one-quarter (27 percent) of reported fires happened in the home. When it comes to residential fire sprinklers, misinformation and misunderstandings keep many from knowing about their important contributions to fire prevention. Our Mythblaster Monday series serves to bridge that knowledge gap by debunking a different myth each week and pointing to resources that explain the advantages of home fire sprinklers. Last week we shared how easy and quick it is to properly maintain residential sprinklers, and today’s myth highlights another concern that can plague many homeowners.

 

Myth: Sprinklers will leak.

Fact: Sprinkler mishaps are generally less likely and less severe than home plumbing system problems.

 

This myth is easily dispelled. Compared to sinks, toilets, and other areas of home plumbing that can fail, home fire sprinklers are more likely to perform without issue. A twenty-year survey of home fire sprinklers in Scottsdale, AZ found that 89 percent of respondents said their sprinkler systems had never leaked nor did they have a maintenance problem. Last Monday, we shared that home sprinklers need little maintenance—only a twice-yearly water flow test and occasional visual inspections to make sure pipes and sprinklers are unobstructed. Keeping up with these activities helps ensure that a sprinkler leak will remain an unlikely event.types of home fire sprinklers

 

Only contractors experienced with NFPA 13D, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, should install home fire sprinklers, either in new construction or as part of a retrofit, to ensure that they are installed properly. If a fire does occur, facts show that the closest sprinkler will automatically activate when the temperature reaches 135-165° F, controlling the fire within the 9-12 minutes fire departments typically need to arrive on the scene. This 24-hour protection is a small price to pay when saving your home.

 

Home fire sprinklers come with a variety of design options that make them the perfect addition to a fire prevention system, and all perform with high levels of success. For more resources that offer the facts about home fire sprinklers and the advantages they provide, visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme, “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen,” reminds us that with the cooler seasons comes holiday cooking—and more risk for home fires. One of the best ways to protect your home in the event of a fire is with a multilayered approach to safety, including working smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers. Unfortunately, misinformation follows closely wherever home fire sprinklers are mentioned. In our Mythblaster Monday series we tackle a different myth each week, sharing resources and accurate information that highlight the numerous benefits of home fire sprinklers. Earlier, we debunked the idea that home fire sprinklers are expensive, and today’s myth is along the same vein.

 

Myth: Home fire sprinklers require costly inspections and maintenance.

Fact: It's easy--a flow test should be done a couple times a year.

 

The simple fact is that home fire sprinkler maintenance will never approach the costs of a fire. A 2019 report found that the average dollar loss per home structure fire when sprinklers were present $6,900 compared to $18,800 when they weren’t—a difference of 63 percent lower. Plus, when properly installed residential fire sprinklers are made to operate properly with no maintenance for around 20 years. Residential sprinklers can also save municipalities money.

 

To keep home fire sprinklers in top condition, do not paint over, cover, or otherwise impede them. Also, complete a flow valve test, or have a contractor do one for you, a couple of times a year. The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition has some great information for living with sprinklers and recommends these tips:

  • Occasionally do a visual inspection of controls and sprinklers
  • Teach your children fire sprinklers are not toys and should not be played with
  • Use a padlock to keep the water valve in the ON position
  • Don’t block the sprinklers with furniture or fabrics—a blocked sprinkler cannot put out a fire

Most of all, don’t worry—sprinklers aren’t complicated. The Living with Sprinklers Kit has more tips for integrating home fire sprinklers into your life. The Fire Sprinkler Initiative and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition have even more resources for sharing the positives of home fire sprinklers.

Recent, deadly fires like the ones in Philadelphia and Lansing show how quickly an uneventful day with the family can turn to tragedy. On a relaxed Saturday morning in Philadelphia, firefighters entered a row-house engulfed in flames and smoke to find a woman and three children dead inside. Just a week prior, first responders arrived at a small, burning Lansing residence shortly before midnight, extinguishing the fire and finding Melissa Weston and her two young grandchildren dead inside.

 

These sad events, one early in the morning and one late at night, illuminate the need for taking action to be safer from fire. Both smoke alarms and home fire sprinklers provide the early warning of a potentially fast-moving fire and suppression while the fire department is enroute. We know few existing homes were built with sprinklers, but we can change outcomes by building new homes with a higher level of fire safety with home fire sprinklers.two-story house on fire

 

Regardless of the time of day, we know that in reported home structure fires with working smoke alarms, the risk of dying drops 54 percent compared to in homes with no alarms or none that worked, and that the presence of home fire sprinklers can increase the chances of surviving a home fire by 87 percent. People age 65 and older are at the highest risk of dying in a home fire, while children, pets, and those with disabilities are also at increased risk.

 

While newer building techniques provided great benefits over the years, unprotected lightweight construction combined with synthetic materials and open floor plans can result in fires that burn faster and at higher temperatures. The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition reports that flashover—when everything ignites—can happen in as little three minutes, making every second in a fire count. By being alerted quickly with smoke alarms and controlling the fire as soon as it is detected with home fire sprinklers are an integral part of a home fire protection strategy, along with a practiced escape plan, helping to keep unfortunate tales like the above from happening at all.

Everyday, we see countless, heartbreaking reminders of how fast a fire can destroy one’s home and impact one’s life. Advances in fire protection technology like smoke alarms have become widely used, but home fire sprinklers have yet to proliferate in the same way. Unfortunately, rumors and misinformation run rampant around home fire sprinklers, so in our Mythblaster Monday series we debunk a different myth each week and highlight resources that can be used to refute inaccurate information and better inform your communities about their many advantages. Today’s myth is particularly misleading and adds to the misguided fear that home fire sprinklers damage property.

 

Myth: Smoke alarms cause fire sprinklers to activate.

Fact: Home fire sprinklers are only activated by the high temperature of a fire surrounding the sprinkler.

 

The logical jump for this myth is clear. When fire sprinklers are often shown activating soon after a smoke alarm sounds, people understandably link the two together. But it is simply not true. A liquid-filled bulb sits at the center of each sprinkler, and only when the temperature reaches between 135°-165°F (57°-74°C) will that bulb burst.

 Only the sprinkler closest to the fire will activate, and a survey found that 90 percent of the time, one sprinkler was enough to control the fire.

 

Fire sprinklers and smoke alarms work very well together, and people benefit greatly from having both. Smoke alarms provide early detection while home fire sprinklers act as early suppression, both increasing valuable time needed to escape a home fire. The best time to install home fire sprinklers is during construction, but retrofitting is also an option. Either way, make sure to only choose contractors qualified as specialists in sprinkler installation. This brochure quickly breaks down the advantages of this life-saving technology; and legislators, community members, and AHJs can find more support for home fire sprinkler installation here. For even more resources, visit the Fire Sprinkler Initiative and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

We talk often about the benefits of working smoke alarms, home escape plans, and home fire sprinklers.  But nothing helps drive the point home more than a real-life example that is captured in real time. 

This video by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition shows how swiftly a home fire can spread, underscoring the need to take fire safety seriously and account for the ability or inability of those in the home to quickly escape.

 

The video gives a rare view into a home on fire before the fire department arrives. In under two minutes, flames and smoke begin to take over the room, while an elderly man watches television, unaware of the fire just a few feet away. Before a smoke alarm could alert everyone in the home of the fire early, a woman comes in and notices the flames. She is able to get them both out.

Sadly, people aged 65 and older are at the highest risk of dying in a home fire, so increasing the amount of time available for escape is paramount. This is another strong case for the installation of home fire sprinklers. Home fire sprinklers begin controlling a fire before firefighters arrive, giving occupants time to escape.

 

Thankfully, everyone escaped without injury, but so often, similar situations do not end this way. A complete fire safety strategy should include working smoke alarms, home fire sprinklers, and practicing an escape plan. For more resources on home fire sprinklers and their benefits, check out the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

This Tuesday we continue our Mythblaster Monday series, where we discuss and debunk the myths around home fire sprinklers, offering resources to highlight their advantages and tackle the misinformation. Last Monday we found that home fire sprinklers are green, and they lower water usage, pollution, and gas emissions. Today we broach the other half of the water-use concern; a myth that acknowledges how much is at stake in a home fire.

 

Myth: Water damage from sprinklers is worse than fire damage

Fact: Sprinkler flows are 10-26 gallons of water per minute. Sprinkler damage is a fraction of typical losses from an unsprinklered home fire.

 

We’ve all seen a movie where the fire sprinklers go off, drenching everyone and everything in sight for comedic effect. Fortunately, when it comes to how sprinklers suppress fires in the home, this image couldn’t be further from the truth. Home fire sprinklers begin battling a fire as soon as the heat around the sensor reaches a high enough temperature, in many cases extinguishing the flames before first responders arrive. As a result, a home fire sprinkler uses about 1/10th the amount of water as a fire hose, and at lower pressure. Plus, in 90 percent of home fires, the fire is controlled by only one sprinkler, lowering damages.

 

In addition to how much water is necessary to extinguish a fire that has had time to grow and spread, we also consider what the fire itself destroys—burning away beloved keepsakes, lives, furniture, and other elements that make a house into a home. This year’s NFPA Fire Prevention Week is all about cooking, and a recent study found that cooking activities caused $1.2 billion in property damage in home fires, as well as being the leading cause of fires in one- and two-family homes. In some cases, like the fire at Food Network star Rachel Ray’s home earlier this month, home fire sprinklers can be especially helpful for firefighting efforts in remote locations with limited access to water, helping to preserve the memories in our homes.

 

As we can clearly see, home fire sprinklers are one of the best ways to protect life and property from the devastation of home fires. This brochure offers a quick breakdown of the benefits for homeowners, and homebuilders can find information tailored to their concerns here. For more resources on home fire sprinklers and how to dispel the myths surrounding them, check out the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

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