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.
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.
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.
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.
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.