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NFPA has gotten word that two more towns have passed requirements for home fire sprinklers this year. Dayton, Maine, and Washougal, Washington, have joined nearly a half-dozen other towns that are installing sprinklers in their new homes. (Nearby Camas, Washington, approved their own sprinkler ordinance in 2016.) Others that have made the list this year include: 

 

 

 

To all of the advocates you were able to convince their decision makers that fire sprinklers should be a necessity in new homes, we say congratulations. 

“People are at risk of a fire anywhere they live, work, or recreate. But residential fires have accounted for almost all of the loss of life in our community,” Las Vegas Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Robert Nolan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. While those statements are applicable in far too many U.S. cities, the news outlet focused its journalistic lens on the local impact of residential fires.

 

The four-part series, "Valley of Fires," discusses the fire impact and risks in Las Vegas. (The city was placed in the safety spotlight this year for its passage of a requirement to fire sprinklers all of its new homes.) The series tackles the following topics: 

 

  • hotels on the Las Vegas strip are "fireproof fortresses," but the same cannot be said for the pockets of homes in certain neighborhoods
  • a deadly fire spotlights the increased fire risks in the city's older neighborhoods
  • fire inspection resources are stretched thin
  • costs seem to prevent safety upgrades at home

 

Read the four-part series. Are the topics highlighted in this series synonymous to what's occurring in your region? Please let us know by responding to this post. 

Source: WFMJ

 

Five children--ranging in age from one to nine years old--died in a horrific home fire in Youngstown, Ohio, this month. At the time of this post, the children's mother remains in critical condition at a Cleveland burn center after she leaped from a second-story window and roof to escape the flames. 

 

"I don't think she knows [about her children] yet," the mother's friend, Yary Rodriquez, told a local NBC affiliate. "[Those were] her five babies. Her five angels. They were her world."

 

After speaking with Youngstown fire officials, the local media has also reported that there were working smoke alarms inside the residence. The cause is under investigation, but initial findings don't seem to point to anything suspicious. 

 

Smoke alarms are vital in all homes, but the statistics speak for themselves. These devices reduce the risk of dying in a home fire by 50 percent, whereas the death rate is 80 percent lower in homes with fire sprinklers than those without them, according to NFPA. When in the market for a new home or building a new home, please make sure it includes home fire sprinklers. If you need some help from us, please ask. 

NFPA has been developing new ways of letting the public know that home fires should be a serious concern. Simply telling people that home fires are responsible for the majority of fire deaths isn't enough to change behavior. We need to show them the gut-wrenching realities of fire.   

 

We took this approach with NFPA's first, limited episode podcast, The Survivors." This is the story of a family that had a devastating interaction with fire, one that has had a lasting impact. We didn't take a cursory look at what happened to the van Dijk family when a fire occurred at their home; we dove deep into their lives and explained their emotional and physical pain of losing two children in such a heartbreaking way. Their trauma and personal growth following the fire is equal parts devastating and uplifting. And it's a story of a family that we felt needed to be heard. 

 

We were honored that their story got the attention of the Association Media and Publishing this year; it awarded us the gold award for educational podcasting. More recently, "The Survivors" received the top honor in the audio storytelling category by PR Daily's Content Marketing Awards. We were honored to be in the running with big-named companies such as Microsoft and Capital One. 

 

We share this news not to gloat about our accolades but to inform you that this personal type of storytelling is getting the attention of those not in the fire arena. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard from "outsiders" that since listening to the story of the van Dijk's, they've made sure their smoke alarms are working. They've practiced home escape planning. They realize how important fire sprinklers are in new homes. What seems to be seeping in are key safety messages made important by this family's story. 

 

Please listen to "The Survivors." Please tell us how their story impacted you. Please share with those in and out of the fire world. And please--find those human stories in your community that can help humanize fire's impact. 

 

We again thank the van Dijk family for having the courage to put their lives in the spotlight. They have been searching for ways to honor the two boys they lost in the fire. In some small way, we hope the podcast has been one of those ways. 

The Sheridan Press reports that the Sheridan, Wyoming, Town Council voted "no" during a third and final reading on a code requirement to sprinkler its new homes. The council voted similarly during previous readings. 

 

Despite the vote, research efforts on a sprinkler requirement in Sheridan will continue. While installation costs were discussed prior to the recent vote, a building official told the publication that a more comprehensive cost-benefit analysis will be presented to the city council next year. Based on this information, the council could reverse their decision. 

 

Fire sprinkler myths during public hearings on the requirement seemed to have cemented council's decision. A resident told them that "it's not a matter of if a sprinkler system leaks, it’s a matter of when." In actuality, leaks from fire sprinklers were rare.

 

Please understand all of the myths and facts around home fire sprinklers by visiting NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.

The following commentary is from Steve Leyton, president of Protection Design and Consulting: 

 

I read your summary of the Geneva, Illinois, council action and Bill Webb’s comments regarding homebuilder misrepresentations of costs. Please remember that although most conversations are definitely corrupted by misinformation by the National Association of Home Builders and others in opposition [of fire sprinkler requirements], we (the sprinkler industry and advocacy community) have also been understating costs for many years. It is imperative that the sprinkler industry “pull its head out” regarding pricing gouging but it’s equally important that we look at the pricing formula holistically and describe it accurately.

 

Take a 2,000-square-foot-house with a 500-square-foot attached garage in California. Our state has by far the largest residential sprinkler market in the world and it’s highly competitive. Our pricing is likely the lowest in the nation. Most tract product and lower-cost multifamily products can be fire protected for $1.50-$1.75 per square foot in the dwelling units, but let’s use a conservative $2 per square foot for this equation. In California, the garage will be sprinklered, so $2 x 2,500 = $5,000. Two. Dollars. Per. Square. Foot. Right? Except it’s not because the builder is describing that house as a 2,000-square-foot house, not 2,500-square-foot home. The price immediately jumps to $2.50 per square foot. That’s a 25 percent price increase based on semantics. Many (too many, in my opinion) authorities having jurisdiction require audible alarms, so that’s another $350-$500. Now we’re approaching $2.75. And the water district may mandate a one-inch meter over a three-quarter-inch one because it’s a sprinklered home, then possibly charge a $7,500 uptick in the service and capacity fees for that larger service. That's an increase of $3.75 per square foot, bringing the total cost to $13,000, or $6.50 per square foot, an increase of 2.6 times the very generous starting budget quoted by the sprinkler industry. And those fees are often higher. 

 

I serve as chair of NFPA 14, Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems. I’ve been using and contributing to NFPA 13D and NFPA 13R since 1988. I have spoken to fire officials, building officials, city councils, homebuilders, contractors, water agencies, and just about any other stakeholder you can name in this conversation over the course of many years. I’ve met with the Association of California Water Agencies and others about meter pricing. I’m a new member of the American Water Works Association Fire Protection Committee, where I hope we can generate new energy to get the water works community on board with residential sprinkler advocacy and sane policy making.

 

I would love to be part of any effort that is being undertaken to push back on exaggerated claims such as those cited, but it’s important to acknowledge that in many cases the high cost of residential fire protection is due to archaic standards and associated fees that are incurred as direct costs by homebuilders that drive their seemingly institutionalized opposition.

 

What are your thoughts on Steve's comments? Let us know by replying directly to this post.  

Before we promote a key solution to America's home fire problem (e.g., fire sprinklers), we must first convince decision makers why they're needed in the first place. Fire data can help cement the importance of requiring this technology. 

 

Here are some new facts that will help your cause. NFPA's latest report underscores the leading cause of home fires and injuries: cooking. Here are other key findings from the "Home Cooking Fires" report: 

 

  • Between  2012-2016, there was an average of about 470 home cooking fires per day. These fires caused an average of 530 civilian deaths, 5,270 reported civilian fire injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage per year.
  • Unattended cooking was the leading cause of cooking fires and casualties. Clothing was the item first ignited in less than 1 percent of these fires, but clothing ignitions led to 15 percent of the home cooking fire deaths.
  • Home fires caused by cooking peaked at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Ranges or cooktops were involved in the 63 percent of reported home cooking fires, 86 percent of cooking fire deaths, and 79 percent of cooking fire injuries.
  • Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges.
  • One-third of the people killed by cooking fires were sleeping at the time. More than half of the non-fatal injuries occurred when people tried to control the fire themselves.

 

Learn how to prevent cooking fires using these NFPA safety tips. If in the market for a new home, ask for home fire sprinklers, which can quickly respond to a cooking fire. 

"It's nothing short of a tragedy," Fire Chief Brian Enterline told a Fox affiliate following the death of a young couple from a residential fire in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Based on what was discovered at the scene, it seems the couple tried to fight the fire; firefighters discovered the sink's faucet running and rummaged cabinets, possibly from them trying to find a fire extinguisher, says Enterline. (If there's a fire in a home, NFPA urges residents to get out of the home immediately rather than fight the fire.)  

 

The fire department arrived at the scene in four minutes but was unable to save the couple. The cause seems to be electrical, says Enterline, adding that "we wouldn't even be talking about the fire because it would have been so small" if fire sprinklers were at the residence. Even if the building were built today, it would still lack fire sprinklers per the city's building code. The building doesn't exceed the 75-foot threshold for fire sprinklers, nor does its renovations cost more than 50 percent over its assessed value, another requirement for installing fire sprinklers, states the news story.  

 

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, officials in Pittsburgh obtained public comment on a proposed requirement to fire sprinkler any building there at least 75 feet tall. During a public hearing on the requirement, parties on both sides of the debate aired their concerns, including a retired fire chief who said that "prevention is better than sprinklering." 

 

Complementing preventive efforts with sprinkler installations in residences can have a significant impact on reducing North America's home fire problem.

 

What are your thoughts on the statement "prevention is better than sprinklering?" Please offer your response by replying to this post. 

Sheridan, Wyoming, City Council recently approved a second reading of a building code update that doesn't include the model building requirement to fire sprinkler new homes. Fire service members there seem to understand a fire sprinkler's life-saving ability but are undecided on the requirement's economical ramifications in their town. 

 

“Sprinklers have been shown to be very effective,” Sheridan County Fire Warden Chris Thomas told The Sheridan Press. “It really gets down to a risk management cost-versus-benefits scenario and that’s never an easy decision." 

 

Adding that there are a lot of "unknowns" on fire sprinkler requirements, Sheridan Fire-Rescue Chief told the publication that he couldn't take a side on this issue. He did say that while commercial sprinklers are prevalent, residential fire sprinklers are a "fairly new thing" that needs more research. 

 

Through its research, NFPA and others have underscored positive outcomes in towns deciding to embrace fire sprinkler requirements. Some of the findings highlighted on NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative site include: 

 

  • an analysis proving the enactment of sprinkler ordinances did not cause any detrimental effects on housing supply and costs. The data reviewed indicates that sprinkler system requirements were a minor influence on regional housing costs compared to fees and other rules, population and job growth, and land availability
  • in these municipalities, the cost to install sprinklers in new homes where public water was not provided was as little as $1.23 per square foot, with costs in one development where public water was provided being $1.10 or less per square foot
  • this town has been able to inexpensively sprinkler its new homes, while making a dent in its home fire problem

 

A sprinkler requirement in Sheridan might be reconsidered during third and final reading on the new building code, reports The Sheridan Press. 

The following commentary was written by Michael Wilson, state coordinator for the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. The board is a member of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Coalition:

 

We have come a long way in listening to and taking care of our disabled population; however, we can and should be doing better. Whether it's construction that's not up to code or job discrimination, individuals with disabilities struggle in everyday life. The fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act was only passed in 1990 shows how long those with disabilities were not heard. Sadly, that trend has continued to this day with fire safety. A recent example of this occurred when a house fire broke out in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

 

Late in the afternoon on November 3, a fire broke out in a home on the 900 block of Larchmont Avenue. Luckily a bystander saw what was happening and bravely rushed in when he saw the fire. This bystander, an off-duty police officer, was able to save the lives of a mother and her child who were trapped on the roof. The grandmother of the child, who had mobility limitations, was unable to vacate the home and passed away in the fire. Sadly, this tragedy is not an isolated incident.

 

More than 43 million Americans have a disability. Disabilities can range from being sensory to mobile. Individuals with disabilities cannot vacate a house as quickly as others and need more time to do so. Smoke detectors and fire escape ladders are great resources, but they can be ineffective for someone who is hearing impaired or wheelchair-bound.

Fire sprinklers are an overlooked yet viable solution to protect those with disabilities in the event of a fire. There have been numerous cases of individuals with mobility issues who were in a room where a fire broke out whose lives were saved when the sprinkler head went off and contained the fire. Despite the effectiveness of fire sprinklers, many builders and homeowners do not consider installing them. In the recent Haverford fire, had there not been a brave bystander nearby, the whole family would have perished; had there been fire sprinklers in the home, this story would not have made headlines.

 

I commend the brave actions of the bystander who saved those who were trapped and offers its condolences to the surviving family members. Policy makers and developers should consider those with disabilities in their planning. If you have a loved one with disabilities in a care facility, make sure to check for smoke detectors and fire sprinklers. Ensure that your loved one knows what to do in case of a fire.

 

All fatal fires are preventable—it's just a matter of enacting change. It's time to include individuals with disabilities in the conversation on fire safety and make tragic fires like the one in Haverford a thing of the past.

 

Download these NFPA home safety tips for people with disabilities. When updating your local building codes, please promote the impact home fire sprinklers can play in protecting this population.

Laurie Christensen and Rachel Moreno with the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office receive the 2018 Fire Sprinkler Leadership Award  

 

The Texas Fire Sprinkler Coalition honored two advocates during the Texas Fire Marshal's Association Conference in October. Both received the 2018 Fire Sprinkler Leadership Award and are no strangers to fire sprinkler advocacy.

 

Chief Chris Connealy
Connealy served as the Texas state fire marshal from 2012 to 2018. During his leadership; Connealy conquered many challenges, including the West Texas Ammonium Nitrate Explosion. He was a powerful voice for firefighter safety and took to the road, visiting each of the 68 Texas counties that have fertilizer plants. Connealy has also been a vocal advocate for fire sprinklers in homes and all other occupancies.

 

Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office
From October 2017 to September 2018, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office highlighted 14 fire sprinkler activations.  Under the supervision of Chief Laurie Christensen, Public Information Officer Rachel Moreno produced news releases for each sprinkler save that were published by Houston/Harris County local media. 

 

Roland Garcia, co-chair of the Texas Fire Sprinkler Coalition, and NFPA Regional Manager Bob Sullivan presented the awards to the recipients during the conference. 

 

Interested in recognizing a fire sprinkler advocate in your area? Nominate them for the NFPA/Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition Bringing Safety Home Award. The recipient will receive $1,000 to fund local fire sprinkler education/advocacy efforts. Nominations are due November 30. 

The town of Sheridan, Wyoming, upset safety advocates recently when its city council updated its building codes, but passed on a requirement to fire sprinkler its new homes. However, their vote doesn't appear to be a resounding "no" to sprinklers. 

 

According to The Sheridan Press, city staff will continue discussions on installation affordability, insurance incentives, and potential cost savings. Community Development Director Brian Craig said he and his staff want to confirm these financial incentives before "encouraging council to adopt the requirement." Discussions on this requirement, he added, will likely continue through the winter and in 2019. 

 

A local builder also welcomed further conversations that could lead to a requirement. "We would like to propose that we continue our discussions with council...along with other members and people in the community to figure out the best way this can be put into use in the future, which wouldn't damage the affordable housing situation and yet encourage the safety of installation for the residents," Ron Patterson, president of Big Horn Homebuilders, told the publication. 

 

Arguing against stalling the adoption of a requirement was J.D. Gamble, owner of Life Safety Solutions. He told The Sheridan Press that fire sprinklers respond immediately to home fires and address real concerns about local firefighters being unable to get to a home fire in ample time. "There is not one good excuse for not having [the fire sprinkler requirement]," he said. 

 

If you reside in Wyoming and want to help promote home fire sprinklers, please join the Wyoming Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

As we reported on this blog, the Geneva, Illinois, City Council recently voted not to require fire sprinkler its new homes. The lone dissenter of the 8-1 vote against sprinklers was Alderman Jeanne McGowan. Praising her in a recent letter to the editor was Bill Webb, executive director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. 

 

"Kudos to Councilwoman Jeanne McGowan for taking a stand in support of the public safety community on this important issue," states Webb. "While this is a local decision, I have seen too many victims of fire disasters across the nation."

 

Installation cost estimates for fire sprinklers seemed to be why the city council voted the way they did; builders told members that sprinklering a single-family home could exceed $20,000. Webb took that claim to task. "It’s disconcerting for public safety officials when we hear about local jurisdictions rejecting sprinkler requirements in newly constructed homes," he stated. "It’s also disconcerting when opponents of fire sprinklers inflate the costs to bolster their arguments against automatic fire sprinklers.

 

"When it comes to safeguarding our homes where we spend a preponderance of our time, there’s still resistance in communities across our nation to make wise decisions that will save more lives."

 

Educate yourself on NFPA's research on home fire sprinklers. Furthermore, work with your local safety advocates and sprinkler industry to obtain state or regional estimates of installation costs. These localized numbers will help counter the opposition.  

Stephan Cox (left) and Richard Smith with the Maryland State Firemen's Association received the 2016 Bringing Safety Home Award from Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy and president of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

 

One lucky fire sprinkler advocate will receive $1,000.

 

NFPA and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) are accepting nominations for its Bringing Safety Home Award, which recognizes outstanding efforts by a safety advocate who diligently promotes the importance of home fire sprinklers.

 

The award honors members of the fire service and other fire sprinkler advocates in North America who use HFSC educational information, NFPA data, and NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative resources to educate decision makers on home fire sprinklers. These efforts are aimed at convincing legislators and code officials to support sprinkler requirements at the local, state, or provincial level. The award recipient will receive a $1,000 grant to further fire sprinkler advocacy and educational efforts in their area.

 

Past recipients of the Bringing Safety Home Award have included members of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association, who helped defeat a legislative bill that would have weakened Maryland’s statewide requirement for sprinklering new homes. Fire chiefs influential in passing fire sprinkler requirements in their town have also received this award.

 

“This year, a number of communities have successfully passed requirements for fire sprinklers in new homes,” says Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy and HFSC president. “We are gradually seeing more and more towns embrace this technology thanks to the dedication of fire sprinkler advocates who educate on the life-saving ability of fire sprinklers. They know how to effectively counter sprinkler opponents who downplay today’s home fire problem and the need for fire sprinklers in all new homes.” According to NFPA research, fire sprinklers reduce the risk of dying in a fire by 80 percent.

 

NFPA and HFSC will accept nominations for the Bringing Safety Home Award through November 30, 2018. Visit NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative website to submit a nomination. 


Do you own a home with home fire sprinklers? Were the sprinklers retrofitted? You may be able to earn a $25 Amazon gift card. The Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy is inviting homeowners who have retrofitted their home with home fire sprinklers to complete a survey about their experiences with home fire sprinklers. Eligible homeowners who agree to participate and complete the survey will be given a $25 gift card to Amazon. The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete. 

 

If you have any questions about the research survey, please email the project director, Elise Omaki, or call her at 410-645-0178. 

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