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The line snaked past the gutted home and into the street. Seeing is believing, and about 800 eager New Zealand residents saw an eyeful when they finally made their way past the home's front door. There were charred remnants of a home once inhabited by a family of three. Signage throughout the structure pointed to its damage ("note the black staining of the glass") and the stove where it began ("fire started here"). The show and tell was an ingenious way for Fire and Emergency New Zealand to underscore fire's wrath by having residents get close to its aftermath. 

 

The event's overwhelming turnout proved it was a hit with the public and safety advocates trying to promote fire prevention in new ways. "We see this as a really, really good opportunity to show people the damage after a house fire and to reaffirm preventative measures as well as talk to people about smoke alarms and an escape plan if they have a house fire," Craig Chambers, Fenz Mid-South Canterbury fire risk management officer, told the Timaru Herald. 

 

The event also brought fire statistics to life. As is the case in the U.S., cooking is the leading cause of home fires in New Zealand. The family who had lived in the home left a pot of oil unattended, which sparked the fire, reports the Timaru Herald. The fire's flames and smoke destroyed all of their belongings. 

 

If there's a home impacted by fire in your community that's safe enough for a walk-through, please consider taking a similar approach as our New Zealand friends and open it up to the public. Here are photos of the event: 

 

 

Photos: Stuff.co.nz

While we have seen some unfortunate setbacks for home fire sprinklers this year (Connecticut, for example), there have been some major successes on the local level. Recently, the Gorham, Maine, Town Council voted to require sprinklers in all new homes. According to a news story, the new "Fire Suppression Systems Ordinance"  takes effect in October. Quoted in the piece was Town Councilor Ronald Shepard, who said sprinklers "are a life-safety issue for firefighters."

 

The council's decision follows months of dialogue on the issue and included two educational workshops on home fire sprinklers. The new ordinance, which passed with a 5-2 vote, expands on Gorham's existing sprinkler ordinance. Under that law, "only homes built in subdivisions without fire ponds were required to have fire sprinkler systems," states the story, adding that 260 homes in Gorham have already been sprinklered. 

 

Addressing concerns from homeowners on doing self-inspections, the local fire department will offer training courses. (Inspecting a home's fire sprinklers, according to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, couldn't be simpler.)  

 

Outside of Maine, other communities have embraced sprinkler requirements this year. Via this blog, we've highlighted: 

 

 

Do you know of a town or community that has recently passed a requirement for home fire sprinklers? Please let us know.

Florida Fire Sprinkler Coalition Co-Chair Wendy Niles (left) joined Lorrell Bush with the Florida Fire Sprinkler Association (middle) and Jeni Pierce, fire marshal with the Clermont Fire Department in Florida, at the 2018 Central Florida Home Expo in Orlando. "We had lots of visitors stop by our booth and feel we made some good impact on both awareness of home fire sprinklers and their benefits," says Niles. "We’re hoping for some calls regarding retrofits and new installs for a few folks who are in the process of constructing a new home."

 

Attending a similar expo in your community? Will you be in front of builders and need resources? There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Use free resources from NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), including: 

 

Within the span of a day, two home fires in the same state resulted in four people being injured and an estimated $200,000 worth of damage. There were likely news reports on the fire, but the media did not likely discuss the immediate and long-term aftermath of these fires. In the following commentary, Paul Eichler, chair of the Delaware Fire Sprinkler Coalition, sheds light on what will likely follow these fires: 

 

Unfortunately here in Delaware, two devastating fires have been reported that will have long-lasting and debilitating effects on those directly involved as well as the communities where the fires took place. First, three people--two occupants and one firefighter--were injured in an early-morning fire outside of Dover. The dwelling suffered approximately $50,000 in damages.

 

The second fire occurred in the Scottfield neighborhood near Newark. An occupant of that dwelling was also critically injured. Damages are estimated at $150,000. Both dwellings that suffered fires are described as “uninhabitable."

 

While the fires happened in two separate sections of the state, the similarities and comparisons are disturbing. Besides the life-changing injuries to occupants, if the people recover from their injuries, they will not have a house to come home to. If the dwellings can be repaired, it will be many months before they are habitable again. Neither house had working smoke alarms. In the Scottfield house, it is reported that no smoke alarms were found at all. This is extremely upsetting to learn as every fire company in the state has an inventory of smoke alarms to provide to residents in their districts. Working smoke alarms provide the notification necessary for early detection of fires. This is not a secret, nor a little known fact. 

 

Also consider the impact to the areas where the fires took place. Neighborhoods will now have these burned-out shells in their presence until some type of remediation occurs. The local environment around these neighborhoods have now been punished with air and water runoff pollution. Delaware is a state that is fighting battles on both of these environmental fronts with little success. These fires just added insult to injury.

 

I hope that the victims of these fires all have successful recoveries. In the event their homes can be repaired, or if they make plans to rebuild, please consider building with residential fire sprinklers. While working smoke alarms provide early detection of fire and smoke, residential fire sprinklers provide early suppression of small fires. Small fires controlled by sprinkler systems do not become large fires that threaten lives, property, and the environment.

 

Anyone considering building a new house in Delaware should include residential fire sprinklers in their plans. Do not be put off or dissuaded by your builder. While you will most likely get a quality house, it's the contents that fill your home that cause many concerns in the unfortunate event of a fire.

A new report once again points to the horror home fires pose on the public, and the power of home fire sprinklers. Examining 10 years of fire data, the University of Fraser Valley in British Columbia released new research that bears a striking resemblance to U.S. data. 

 

"We wanted to take a fresh look at the data in light of modern-day fire response, demographics, and building fire risk," says Joseph Clare, who co-authored the study "Sprinkler Systems and Residential Structure Fires--Revisted: Exploring the Impact of Sprinklers for Life Safety and Fire Spread." "The results underscore the life-saving potential of automated sprinklers in all residential settings, particularly when paired with working smoke alarms." 

 

Some of the reports key findings include:

 

"This is further evidence that mandatory sprinkler systems in all new homes would be a large, proactive step towards furthering residential fire safety in Canada," Clare told Fire Fighting in Canada. Visit the site for more information on this report. 

It was Christmas Eve, and a teenaged Paul Zbikowski was with his family when a fire erupted in the upstairs unit of the two-family home. Once noticing the fire, Zbikowski scooped his two brothers off the living room floor and ran for safety with his sister in tow. He then filled buckets of water and handed them to his parents, who attempted to control the fire until firefighters arrived. (Zbikowski now knows that if a home is on fire, leave it to the professionals. Get out and stay out.) "That was my first firefighting effort," says Zbikowski, a 40-year member of the fire service and currently fire chief for the Berlin, Massachusetts, Fire & EMS Department.

 

The culprit was soot buildup in the home's chimney. As the firefighters extinguished the blaze, Zbikowski vividly remembers "waterfalls of water," which could have been lessened if fire sprinklers were present. "I've been in the business for 40 years and have seen the effects of buildings with sprinklers and the ones without," he tells NFPA. 

 

This year was prime time for Zbikowski to push for a requirement to sprinkler Berlin's new homes. He cites a projected influx of new residents in town (over the next five years, the town of 3,100 people will expand by 25 percent, he says) and new development (under way is a four-story hotel, 225-unit apartment complex, and a couple residences for older adults). There's also the possibility of other residential developments. These new projects could strain the town's current fire suppression systems. Berlin doesn't have its own public water supply and relies on a series of cisterns, which Zbikowski calls "problematic" and could be ill-equipped to handle the needs of new development. 

 

He initially pitched the idea for a sprinkler requirement to his town's building commissioner, who liked the idea. Zbikowski then addressed it at recent town meeting, the next step in Berlin's approval process. In a nutshell, the proposed regulation would require fire sprinklers in new developments with three or more units. "If it's a subdivision and it's only three homes, it'll be sprinklered," he says. Zbikowski referenced NFPA's research on installation costs during his presentation. The pitch and the information Zbikowski had presented worked; the town decided to move forward with its own ordinance. The state attorney general's office approved the new regulations in August.

 

Zbikowski was a bit surprised that the requirement didn't receive any pushback during the town meeting. What may have made this palatable for his town is the way fire sprinklers would be less taxing on water than traditional firefighting operations. Newly sprinklered homes will have a 600-gallon tank of water in the basement for sprinklers, since the town lacks its own public water supply. 

 

In the event of an activation, "in most cases, we’re going to go there, turn the sprinklers off, and mop up," says Zbikowski. 

 

NFPA commends Zbikowski's efforts that led to the passage of this new requirement. 

 

Make a convincing case for sprinklers by incorporating these seven points into your pitch for a fire sprinkler requirement. 

We are seeing some outstanding successes this year in regards to local jurisdictions passing requirements for fire sprinklers. For instance, Las Vegas now has its own requirement for new homes, as have cities in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maine. If there are towns in your area that have recently passed or are considering a residential requirement, please let us know so we can assist and/or highlight these efforts.


NFPA occasionally gets asked how many local jurisdictions nationally have home fire sprinkler requirements in accordance with NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. We have rough estimates, but a new resource can help us get a better handle on where 13D is required. Introducing NFPA’s CodeFinder™, an interactive,  tool that identifies the NFPA codes and standards that are in effect in U.S. municipalities or counties. While CodeFinder™ gives users the ability to see which codes are being used in their state, it also allows for user input. We are asking our sprinkler advocates to help us track where 13D is being used nationally.


Once on the CodeFinder™ site, please click on the “Share Your Knowledge” button at the top of the page. That will direct you to a form alerting us where, locally, a sprinkler ordinance referencing 13D has been established. Your entry will be vetted by our team for accuracy. Please note that the CodeFinder™ database currently includes cities/jurisdictions greater than 250,000 people. Those cities below that threshold will be added in the next phase of this project.

 

We greatly appreciate your help in adding the information to our database. Please also forward this blog to your contacts that may be able to assist. The more jurisdictions we have in our database, the better we are able to identify the sprinkler requirements in your state. In turn, we can show (and help silence) sprinkler opponents by identifying a larger number of local jurisdictions fully embracing this technology. Any questions, please let us know!

One fire department is devoting an entire year of activities to fire sprinklers. 

 

This month, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) in England initiated its Sprinklers Save Lives Campaign aimed at raising awareness of this technology in both commercial and residential settings. According to Cheshire's news release on the campaign, residential fires account for the greatest number of fire deaths and injuries each year. Fire sprinklers aren't required in single-family homes. Moreover, only two percent of the UK’s public and housing association-owned high-rises have full sprinkler systems, and less than a third of the 260 schools built since 2014 have sprinklers. 

 

"Lives and property can be saved with this simplest of additions," Lee Sheers, CFRS's head of protection, stated in the news release. “There is clear evidence that sprinklers can be effective in stopping fires spreading and putting them out." 

 

As part of this campaign, CFRS will initiate monthly activities, with each month catered to specific audiences, including homebuilders, landlords, small businesses, and homeowners. 

 

Kudos to Cheshire Fire for taking an important step for fire safety. Curious about other sprinkler successes in the UK? Read how the country of Wales passed a requirement to sprinkler all of its new homes.

Named one of the largest homebuilders in the U.S., Lennar announced this summer that all of its new homes will become smarter homes; locking the front door or turning on the lights in any room, for instance, can occur via voice-activated commands or your smartphone. This automation is possible via home designs with built-in Wi-Fi and Amazon Alexa, the popular, cloud-based voice service available on an array of devices from Amazon and other manufacturers. 

 

According to USA Today, "every one of the close to 35,000 homes in 23 states Lennar will build will be a smart home, no retrofitting necessary." The company also touts in a news release how "simple, powerful, and affordable a smart home can be." 

 

There's no doubt that the home's features will likely make home living simpler and more high-tech. Who wouldn't want to change a room's temperature by simply letting Alexa know? In the home, you'll also find an array of smart home products--doorbells and speakers included. In fact, "everything's included" is the tagline for these homes and all of their bells and whistles. 

 

What doesn't seem to be included in these homes, however, are fire sprinklers. While I haven't seen cost estimates for the new "smart" features, the company claims they are affordable. They also claim the technological advancements are no hassle once set up by a technician. The same could be said for a feature that might not play your favorite song on command, but could save your life. 

 

Sources for the USA Today story admit the new features are not yet a "must-have," but that's not the case for fire sprinklers, based on the country's stagnant home fire problem. Imagine the long-term impact if all 35,000 Lennar homes (or all new homes built this year, for that matter) had fire sprinklers.

 

As fire sprinkler advocates, what can we do? For starters: 

 

 

If a home isn't incorporating all of the tried-and-true safety elements, particularly fire sprinklers, is it necessarily "smart"? 

Photo: Twitter

The sound of smoke alarms did not wake a Lacey, Washington, resident who fell asleep while leaving food cooking on a stove. A fire soon erupted, immediately activating the home's fire sprinklers. The resident also wasn't stirred from slumber during the sprinkler activation or the sound of firefighters entering the home. 

 

A tweet by Lacey Fire District 3, @LaceyFireDist3, sums up last month's incident: 

 

"...on scene of a fire alarm at local apartments. Cooking fire on stovetop. Occupant asleep. Fire extinguished by sprinkler head. Resident slept through the fire, the alarm, the sprinkler activation & our crew forcing entry! #ThankYouFireCodes because #SprinklersSave Lives."

 

This is yet another example of fire sprinklers doing their job. Curious to read about other activations that have saved lives? Download NFPA's new report, "Sprinkler Successes in One- and Two-Family Homes and Apartments."

Michelle Allyn and her two daughters were settling in for the night when Allyn heard a strange sound coming from outside their home. Allyn opened her front door and noticed her entire carport on fire. The family safely escaped the blaze, but the home was a total loss. When the fire department arrived, the home was already engulfed in flames. The family watched as it slowly was destroyed. 

 

After learning about the importance of fire sprinklers, Allyn decided to install them in her new home, which was built on the same lot as her old home. In the following video produced by NFPA, the family discusses the painstaking process of regrouping after a fire and the security of living in a sprinklered home:

 


Every home fire has a story. What's yours? Share your thoughts, feelings, and details of your experience involving a home fire with NFPA. We'll share it with our national audience. The more the public hears these stories, the more we can help underscore the importance of fire safety and prevention. 

Stephan Cox (left) and Richard Smith with the Maryland State Firemen's Association accept the 2016 Bringing Safety Home Award from Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy and president of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. Smith was recently named Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year by the American Fire Sprinkler Association.

 

In 2012, Maryland passed legislation to fire sprinkler its new homes. A few years later, a local delegate aimed to weaken the requirement by introducing a bill that would have given counties the ability to opt out of fire sprinklering their new homes. Aiming to keep the statewide requirement intact, Richard Smith and his fellow safety comrades went to work. 

 

"We knew [the bill] was coming," Smith said in a recent story by the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA). "We knew which committee it was going to and which subcommittee it would wind up in. We started visiting [committee members] and asking them for support. We brought documents with us. A lot of the information that was being passed out [from sprinkler opponents] was, as usual, incorrect." 

 

While meeting with legislators, Smith gave them compelling arguments on why fire sprinklers are necessary for safeguarding the local fire service (of which he was a member) and public. His efforts worked; the anti-sprinkler bill died in committee months after it was introduced. 

 

Its efforts like these that have made Smith a local champion for home fire sprinklers and a national role model. He has been named AFSA's 2018 Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year, and will be honored at the association's convention, September 30-October 30. 

 

Smith, vice chair of the Maryland State Firemen's Association (MFSA), and MFSA's Richard Smith were awarded the 2016 Bringing Safety Home Award, administered by NFPA and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. This award recognizes fire service members and other safety advocates who use HFSC and NFPA resources to ensure that decision-makers have accurate information as new or updated home fire sprinkler codes are considered.

 

As for the AFSA award, Smith says "this is truly a prestigious award for a volunteer firefighter like myself." Read his full bio by visiting AFSA's site.

 

NFPA congratulates Smith on his newest accolade! 

Photo: GoFundMe

 

Update: Since this blog was published, two additional teenagers impacted by this fire have died, bringing the human toll to 10 people. Officials are now investigating fireworks and smoke materials as probable causes to the fire.

 

A residential fire on August 26 that killed six children and two adults during an apparent sleepover is being named the city's deadliest fire in a decade. The Chicago Tribune reports that the fire's official cause hasn't been determined. Investigators did not find working smoke alarms in the home, but noted that the devices could have led to a different outcome. 

 

"The fire started in the rear, and the entryway to the front was wide open," Larry Langford, spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, told the Tribune. "Had they been awake or if someone had woken them, they would have gotten out." 

 

Safety advocates were quick to note that, while important, a smoke alarm's ability only goes so far. According to NFPA, residents may have as little as two minutes once a smoke alarm sounds to safely escape a home fire. "Chicago needs to look at the data," says Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. "Two minutes is not enough time to escape a fire, especially when people are sleeping and there are children in the home who cannot escape by themselves." 

 

Lia is advocating for requirements for smoke alarms and fire sprinklers in all new homes. While Chicago has a requirement to fire sprinkler its new high-rises, the city does not require fire sprinklers in new apartment buildings less than 80 feet in length. Lia says if the same structure impacted by this week's fire was built today, it would not require sprinklers. Not adhering to model building code requirements for this technology is a dangerous, life-safety gamble, say advocates. (Learn about NFPA's Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem and how tragedies can occur if all components of the ecosystem aren't embraced.)

 

Devastating home fires this year have made headlines. Last month, five children died from a residential fire in New Jersey. Bills have been introduced there to fire sprinkler its new homes, despite previous vetoes of similar bills by former Governor Chris Christie. In Illinois, another residential fire this year impacted more than 100 families. There were no fatalities, but the fire had a huge toll. "The fire was devastating, with more than 500 people displaced, $10 million in property damage, not to mention the cost involved when 50 fire departments responded to that fire," says Lia. 

 

Join Lia in advocating for safer homes by using NFPA's data found on its Fire Sprinkler Initiative site. 

We constantly discuss the necessity of indoor, fire sprinklers via this blog. Every so often, we get questions on the necessity and effectiveness of exterior sprinklers, primarily for homes in areas prone to wildfires. If curious about these systems, NFPA and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) have developed a new fact sheet on its functionality and recommendations if considering this technology. 

 

According to the fact sheet, post-wildfire assessments of homes show exterior fire sprinklers can be effective in helping  a home survive a wildfire. However, there are potential issues with their use, including: 

 

  • questionable effectiveness, particularly when a neighboring home is burning, since this would result in an extended radiant heat and/or contact exposure to the home
  • the potential for using extreme amounts of water. The water supply should be adequate to deliver water, when needed, for the time embers could threaten a home. This period could be up to eight hours. 

 

Download the new fact sheet to learn about key recommendations from NFPA and IBHS on the use of exterior sprinklers. 

Fire safety advocates in Palatine, Illinois, gave such a convincing case for home fire sprinklers that its council members recently voted to require them in all new homes. Palatine is the 105th Illinois community with a fire sprinkler ordinance. Rock Island, Illinois, also passed their own requirement this year. (Read our interview with Rock Island's fire marshal on how the ordinance came to be.)

 

Likely of no surprise to Palatine's fire officials, sprinkler opponents downplayed the importance of this feature; at public hearings, homebuilders and realty representatives tried convincing council members that newer homes have safety features that can safeguard residents as adequately as sprinklers. Fire officials took opponents to task for their misinformed comments. 

 

"You can survive 150 degrees for quite some time," Fire Chief Scott Andersen told the Daily Herald. "You can sit in a sauna for an hour and you'll be fine. You cannot survive a thousand degrees. And if someone's in there, guess who's going in there to get them out? I don't care if it's a thousand degrees or 1,500 degrees at the floor, my guys are going in."

 

The village requirement to sprinkler single-family homes and townhomes takes effect in January 2019. NFPA commends the advocacy efforts of Palatine's fire service and the village's city council for prioritizing fire safety.

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