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.”
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, toldThe 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 withan opinion piececalling 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 aunique videocaptured by a doorbell camera across from where the fire took place.
The National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) announced the passing of its former President, John Viniello on Tuesday, February 26, 2019. John served the Association as President from 1984-2012, and was involved in the fire sprinkler industry since 1973.
John was NFSA’s president when theHome Fire Sprinkler Coalition(HFSC) was founded in 1997. He was always a major supporter of the HFSC mission and all of the work to educate on the value of sprinklers.
In a press release Shane Ray, NFSA President spoke of John’s impact, “John’s contribution to the growth of the fire sprinkler industry is visible today in the number of personnel and the number of programs dedicated to advancing the mission of saving lives and property from fire through the widespread acceptance of the fire sprinkler concept,”
More information about John’s legacy and on arrangements can be found on theNFSA website.
According to a recentNFPA report, in 2017 there were 10,600 civilian burn injuries; the major cause of which is cooking. In 2015, almost half of all burn injuries were caused by the cooking equipment.
Activities and information available during Burn Awareness Week are designed to increase awareness, provide safety education, and encourage injury prevention practices to help reduce the number of injuries.
Phoenix Society Executive Director and NFPA Board Member Amy Acton discuss the importance of Burn Awareness Week on WABC 13. Click here to view video.
NFPA is proud to support Burn Awareness Week by providing statistics, various safety tips and information about burn and fire prevention.
One of the important aspects of life safety protection is the presence of home fire sprinklers. Properly installed and maintained fire sprinklers can decrease the number of burn injuries. Key facts to support the benefits of sprinklers include:
the civilian death rate is81 percent lowerin homes with fire sprinklers than in homes without them
the average firefighter injury rate is nearly80 percent lower when fire sprinklers were present during fires
when sprinklers were present, fires were kept to the room of origin97 percent of the time
the home fire death rate is90 percent lowerwhen fire sprinklers and hardwired smoke alarms are present.
By a unanimous vote the New Jersey Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee moved to the full Assembly this month the New Fire Safety Act (billA3974) which would require home fire sprinklers be installed in new single and two-family homes during their construction.
According to the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, there were 31,944 fires reported in 2016, with 18,623 of those involving structures. More than 70 percent of the structure fires occurred in residential homes of which 66 percent were two family dwellings.
(A video produced by the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NJFSAB) showcases the quick intensity of today's home fires and rapid response of home fire sprinklers.)
Committee members testifying spoke to the aim to reduce loss of life to citizens as well as firefighters. “This bill has the potential to save residents and help our firefighters who put their lives on the line each time they go into a fire,” said Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (Middlesex, Somerset). “That alone makes this a crucial legislative effort.”
One of the arguments being used by Worcester County Commissioners in Maryland to try and opt out of the statewide requirement for home fire sprinklers in new homes is that sprinklers thwart building, a notion that has been proven erroneous in other areas. According toan article in The Dispatch, county commissioners voted to draft a document allowing single family homes to opt out of requirement which has been on the books since 2015. Quoted in The Dispatch article, Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said, “I believe that this is hindering building in the county.”
This is an example of unsupported reasoning being used to allow substandard homes to be built and deny new homeowners the protection home fire sprinklers afford. Aresearch reportdone several years ago concluded that the presence of sprinkler ordinances had no negative impact on the number of homes being built. The study compared residential construction in the Washington D.C. suburban counties of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, Maryland and Montgomery, Maryland and Fairfax, Virginia. Prince George’s County and Montgomery County have sprinkler requirements; Fairfax County and Anne Arundel County did not at the time. The counties were selected for comparison based on their demographic matches to each other.A similar study was done in Californiamore recently and concluded there was no indication the presence of sprinkler requirements negatively impacted housing starts.
Fire Marshal Jeff McMahon was also quoted in the article letting the commissioners know that there had been about 3,000 structure fires in the county in the past five years and the average response time is 17 minutes. This too is valuable information to support the importance of sprinklers. With a response time of 17 minutes, you need all the help you can get in keeping fires small or even extinguishing them before the fire department arrives and significantly reducing loss from fire.
Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB), laid down a new year’s challenge he calls “Ban the Ban” to others concerned about reducing home fire loss. In arecent articlein the organization’s newsletter he pointed out that while a number of jurisdictions had success in passing sprinkler requirements, others were held back by anti-sprinkler efforts. Lia spurred advocates to press on. He wrote, “How can we allow a ban on improving public safety?” Further saying, “We can’t afford to sit back and watch sprinkler codes blocked … Let’s unite behind this challenge.” The overarching theme for ban the ban is to work together to change the map pictured here to reflect stronger public safety.
NFPA has received word from the Fire Protection Association (FPA) Australia that fire sprinklers will be required in new apartment buildings over three stories in height. The association calls the new requirement "the most significant shift in fire safety policy since the introduction of mandatory smoke alarms in homes and shared accommodation more than 10 years ago."
The catalyst for this nationwide requirement was a 2012 Australian fire in an unsprinklered apartment building that killed a woman and seriously injured another. A subsequent inquest concluded that both would have likely survived the fire if the building had fire sprinklers, according to an email from the association. A six-year collaboration with the association and other partners led to the new requirement.
“Automatic sprinklers are one of the most effective life protection measures in a fire. This change to our national building rules will dramatically improve the safety of residents living in the 700-plus new medium-rise buildings of this type built each year,” FPA Australia CEO Scott Williams stated in an email. “This is truly a major milestone for all of those involved in this wonderful collaboration, but mostly importantly the community will see the risk of fire in these types of building reduced significantly.”
Congratulations to all Australian advocates who championed for this requirement.
It's an unfortunate fact that the media doesn't typically crave success stories. Reporters are more inclined to cover stories on destruction, accidents, or system failures and less likely to underscore when something went right. Think about the number of recent stories on catastrophic home fires you may have seen or watched, and compare them to the stories (if any) of people saved by the proper activation of a smoke alarm or fire sprinkler. There's sadly some truth behind the journalistic maxim: "If it bleeds, it reads."
Granted, those stories involving the unfortunate impact of home fires should be highlighted as a means to underscore a problem that isn't going away. However, the solution should also be promoted whenever possible. Simply telling a news outlet that a sprinkler activated may or may not get a reporter's attention. Backing an activation with what-could-have-been scenarios and solid facts may bolster your chances of getting something published or on air.
Here's one example of a "sprinkler save" pitch that works. The story starts with the headline "Redmond's mandatory residential sprinklers saves home thousands in fire damages." Todd Short, the town's fire marshal and member of the Washington Fire Sprinkler Coalition, underscored that this sprinkler activation saved more than $100,000 in damages. If you, too, are able to quantify similar numbers following activations, please share those figures with the media.
Short also ties this success to a fire sprinkler requirement that's been in effect for more than a decade. “With the automatic activation of the residential fire sprinkler system, this fire event was quickly and successfully contained to the garage,” he told a local news outlet. “This is a great example of the benefits of residential fire sprinklers and the reason that Redmond adopted a requirement for fire sprinklers in all newly built homes since 2007.”
Please follow Short's approach when sending out a news release on a sprinkler save or communicating these saves with the media.
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:
“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.
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.