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Photo: GoFundMe

 

The town of Union City, New Jersey, is in mourning following a residential fire on July 13 that claimed the lives of five children. Ranging in age from 2 to 13, the children were from the same family and were sleeping when the fire started, according to news reports. Adults and firefighters were also injured in the five-alarm blaze.


According to a story on NJ.com, the cause appears to be from a faulty, electrical outlet, though the investigation is ongoing. (Please follow NFPA’s tips on electrical safety in the home.) The building's owner has been cited with code violations, including failure to maintain smoke alarms and failure to "comply or maintain a fire escape," states another story on NJ.com. 

 

Union City’s mayor’s office has established a victim's fund via a GoFundMe page. “NFPA sends its heartfelt condolences to the family, the victims, and to the entire Union City community,” says NFPA President Jim Pauley. “This incident is a heartbreaking reminder of the devastating and frequent toll of today’s home fires. As far as our country has come in reducing losses associated with fire, home fires remain a major problem that we can no longer ignore.”


NFPA’s research underscores this problem; home fires, on average, kill seven people each day and injure 13,000 annually. Equally alarming is the fact that if there is a reported fire in your home today, you are more likely to die in that fire than one nearly 40 years ago. Life-saving technologies reduce the risk of death or injury from home fires, but aren’t always embraced by state decision makers. For instance, the home fire death rate in homes with hardwired smoke alarms and fire sprinklers is 90 percent lower than homes without them, per NFPA. In New Jersey, legislative bills requiring sprinklers in new, one- and two-family homes have made it to then Governor Chris Christie’s desk twice, which he vetoed both times. The state’s Assembly and Senate have once again introduced similar sprinkler bills this year.


“NFPA joins local safety advocates in supporting any legislation in New Jersey that bolsters fire sprinkler protection, especially in new homes,” says Pauley. “Preventing future generations from experiencing a tragedy similar to what occurred in Union City is why NFPA is fully committed to fire sprinkler requirements.”

New York TV stations are airing an ad downplaying the necessity of fire sprinkler requirements, but safety advocates are fighting back. 

 

A bill introduced in Albany County would require fire sprinklers in its new homes. According to a recent news story, if passed, Albany County would be New York's first county to require this technology. Contractors who don't install fire sprinklers in new homes could face a fine of $250 a day if this measure is passed. The bill is currently in committee, but will be debated during a public meeting in August. 

 

Opposing local requirements for this life-saving bill is the New York State Association of Realtors, which have funded a TV ad downplaying the necessity of fire sprinklers. "This should remain a consumer choice, not a mandate,” Susan Summers, president of the Greater Capital Association of Realtors, told a local news station. Advocates have long argued that fire sprinklers are a U.S. model building code requirement. When jurisdictions go through building code updates, not adopting the full version of the code and cherry-picking what to include and not include from the code is a dangerous act. If a new home is lacking fire sprinklers, it is not adhering to model building code requirements and should be considered substandard. 

 

As he's done many times this year already in front of TV cameras, Jerry DeLuca with the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs discussed the necessity of sprinklers during the news broadcast. (Check out NYSAFC's new sprinkler PSA.) He conduced a brief show-and-tell using an actual sprinkler. 

 


Please bookmark our blog and check it often for updates to this story. If you'd like to snag your own fire sprinkler prop for educational and media-related purposes, please request one from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Do you live somewhere that prohibits home fire sprinkler requirements statewide or locally? Do you feel like your hands are tied by laws that actually prohibit a safety feature known to save lives? While these laws may be in place throughout the U.S., they don't ban you from giving your community doses of fire sprinkler education. Or even calling out laws that could impact their safety. 

 

For example, Georgia safety advocates attracted the media during a side-by-side fire demonstration last month. In a video that appears to be from the same event, State Fire Marshal Dwayne Garriss hits all the key points in front of news cameras. (Download our media talking points guide to make sure you are, too.)

 

"Sprinkler technology...can save lives, save firefighters' lives, can slow down response emergencies," he said. "There is a national code that says you are to have [sprinklers] installed [in new homes]. The biggest problem we have is that a legislative body here has basically said that the state cannot adopt a code that mandates that into a one- and two-family dwelling. In that case, we're just trying to educate people on the benefits of fire sprinklers."

 

Via NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative website, we offer an array of ways to take action even if your state prohibits fire sprinkler requirements. Please do what you can to support home fire sprinklers. 

Here's a unique fire sprinkler save from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Firefighters there were called to an early-morning, residential fire. Residents told them the fire was inside a vacant apartment. Upon entering the unit, they noticed that the fire sprinkler activation had kept the fire tenable. To fully extinguish the fire, firefighters simply stomped it out with their boots, according to the Times Free Press. There were no reported injuries or deaths from the fire. 

 

The fire sprinklers did what they were intended to do. According to NFPA's research on fire sprinkler activation:

 

  • when sprinklers were present during a fire, the fire was kept to the room of origin 97 percent of the time.
  • Roughly 85 percent of the time, just one sprinkler operates during a fire.

 


Has your fire department responded to any fire sprinkler activations? Have you seen any in the news? If so, please send these "saves" to the Fire Sprinkler Initiative team so we can highlight them.

Photo: Twitter 

 

Proving fire can happen anytime and impact anyone, a Maryland couple and their family fled their home during a fire  the morning of the couple's wedding. 

 

According to news reports, the fire began around 2:30 a.m. at the bride-to-be's family home in Maryland. Seventeen family members and wedding party guests were home when the fire started. “I woke up, I woke my wife, and I’m like, something is burning,” one of the wedding guests told a Washington, D.C., ABC news station. “In five minutes, the whole thing was like in flames. Five minutes, the whole thing.”

 

The groom, Matthew Denakis, says he heard his mother-in-law screaming about the fire. Fortunately, everyone escaped safely and nobody was hurt, but the fire caused about $400,000 in damage to the home. Smoking materials may have been the culprit, according to authorities. 

 

Firefighters were able to collect Denakis' Army uniform and shoes for the wedding. The wedding dress was safe since Coral, the bride, had stored it in Denakis' car the night before the fire. Rather than dwell on the negative, the couple decided to continue with the ceremony as planned. "My wife was gorgeous and breathtaking, and my uniform was cleaned," Denakis told the news station. "Decorations that were saved were amazing. It was a nice ending to a rather horrendous beginning."

 

Every home fire has a story. Hear ours by visiting the "survivor stories" page on NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.

Set to vote on a requirement to sprinkler its new homes, the Palatine, Illinois, Village Council decided to postpone the vote after local builders argued they "were given little advance warning about the vote" and could "improve fire safety [in new homes] using cheaper methods," according to a recent news story.

 

The Illinois village had considered a sprinkler ordinance in 2011, but it was rejected following concerns that it would deter new construction projects. Now that neighboring towns have had success in adopting their own fire sprinkler requirements, the vote is back on the table, reports the news story. 

 

Local homebuilders were quick to question Palatine's proposal, stating fire sprinkler requirements would spike home prices, drive up insurance costs, and ignore more affordable--and equally effective--fire prevention methods. However, extensive research has proven the affordability of fire sprinkler installation, particularly in communities that have embraced fire sprinkler ordinances. Moreover, no other technology responds to and helps extinguish a fire as rapidly as fire sprinklers. "[With] sprinklers, you can afford people opportunities to get out," local Fire Marshal Jay Atherton told the publication. He also informed the council that fire sprinkler installations lead to insurance discounts.

 

The council tabled the vote until August so the local homebuilders can submit their input. However, a councilman offered a bit of good news to safety advocates. "I don't want to [be] ambiguous at all--sprinklers are going to be part of our code," said Councilman Scott Lamerand, according to the news story. "Certainly in townhomes and maybe some portion of single-family homes."

Check out a new, 30-second public service announcement created by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs (a member of the New York Fire Sprinkler Initiative). It features a real estate agent or builder chatting with a couple about a new home's fire safety options. He's educated on fire spread, and makes a pretty convincing push for fire sprinkler protection.

 

 

These conversations don't have to be fictitious; help spread the good word on home fire sprinklers by linking the real estate and homebuilding industry with free resources from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. 

We chatted with Robert Nolan, deputy chief and fire marshal for Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, about a landmark ordinance there to start fire sprinklering its new homes. Rather surprisingly, he explains how he worked with the local homebuilding industry to secure the ordinance. 

 

Read the story in the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter. You'll also find information on:

 

  • a homebuilder who is sprinklering 15,000 new homes
  • a state experiencing a 40 percent increase in fire fatalities over last year
  • where fire sprinklers are and aren't required in homes, per NFPA 13D

 

Want our newsletter sent directly to you? Send us a quick email, and we'll make sure it gets there! 

Feike van Dijk (left) and Noelle holding twins Ephraim ("Remmy") and Sabine ("Beanie"). (From right of Noelle) Zephan, Noah, and Able. Zephan and Noah lost their lives in a 2014 home fire.

 

We are a society that craves a good story. Whether you're getting them via a Netflix series or books, stories permeate our daily life. We binge watch episodes. We get invested in the characters' lives. We want to know how it all ends. If done right, though, a story shouldn't just entertain; it should get you to feel. 

 

Every time I see NFPA's alarming statistics on U.S home fires, I see stories, not numbers. There are many people involved in the more than 350,000 reported home fires occurring each year, each of them with their own story of survival, loss,  maybe both. I had a desire to tell a complete story about what follows one of these fires. Rather than only hear about what a home fire survivor has been through, I wanted to feel through their experience. 

 

We've told bits and pieces of this story before via short video vignettes featuring these survivors. While the videos are well done, they only give snippets into their lives. When initially approached by my colleague/friend, Kyle MacNaught, about creating a podcast series, I wasn't interested. While the podcast is in its Golden Age thanks to widely popular, storytelling successes such as Serial or S-Town, I didn't think something similar would translate well into the fire world.

 

We had a thought, though: what if we show the public something they haven't seen before? What if we take them on a journey of a person or persons impacted by fire, show the full picture of their new normal and how they have pieced their lives together after something so catastrophic? Like other journalists covering home fires, I, too, usually focused on the immediate aftermath: how it started, who had died, etc. Rarely does the public get an intimate look at how people are faring years after a fire. Are they still plagued by their past? Even more heartbreaking, what is their life like after losing someone to fire? 

 

We answered those questions and many others in NFPA's first podcast series, "The Survivors."  After having a few initial chats with Feike van Dijk, I knew we had our story's subjects. Injured in a 2014 home fire, the family also lost two of their boys, ages 4 and 2, in the blaze. They've made immense progress in healing their physical and emotional wounds, but memories of that fire are never far from them.

 

Kyle and I found that out firsthand when visiting the van Dijk family at their Lander, Wyoming, home in 2017. We spent days with the family, their neighbors, their burn care professionals. Via the podcast, we also take a big-picture look at the nationwide effects of home fires, interviewing national experts about how these incidents are negatively impacting the fire service, burn care community, and the public. We also offer solutions to help reduce the effects of these tragedies. We had hoped our podcast told a human story that goes what beyond what you'd find in our fire statistics.

 

Both of us were honored to learn that "The Survivors" received a gold EXCEL award for educational podcasting by the Association Media and Publishing at their awards ceremony this week. (NFPA's member magazine, NFPA Journal, also picked up a healthy array of awards for its storytelling endeavors.) The award, however, doesn't just belong to us. It belongs to the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, who partnered with us on this podcast; to our NFPA colleagues who offered their invaluable perspectives; and, of course, to the van Dijk family for opening their homes and hearts to us. 

 

Please listen to our five-part series, and help us spread the word about this important story to your friends, colleagues, and town's decision makers. Via the power of storytelling, we're hoping to help you understand and underscore your home fire problem--and its solutions--to new audiences. 

TV home improvement shows usually marvel at homes with open-concept designs. After all, today's homeowners crave spaciousness. Rarely (if ever) discussed on these shows are the fire concerns of the open floor plan, and safety advocates say it's a topic that should be addressed. 

 

An NBC news station in Arizona aired a segment on these concerns. Members of local fire departments demonstrated fire spread in a setting mimicking a home with an open floor plan. In under 10 minutes, the damage was evident. The reporter and firefighters noted the fire's rapid spread and "cocktail of toxins" released by the burning materials, particularly from synthetic furnishings.  

 

Since it seems open-concept designs aren't going anywhere, the report underscores the importance of having working smoke alarms throughout a home. NFPA recommends new homeowners go a step further and seek out homes with fire sprinklers or ask for this technology when building a new home. Having combination smoke alarms and fire sprinklers in a home can significantly cut your risk of injury or worse from fire; the home fire death rate is an astounding 90 percent lower when hardwired smoke alarms and fire sprinklers are present. 

It's as if Tim Dawdy wanted to build a fire-safe fortress. Maybe his reason stems from witnessing the damaging effects of fire during his 30-year stint in the fire service. Maybe he's safeguarding his new home to have one less thing to worry about during his retirement years. 

 

Whatever the reason, what Dawdy has done to his new home is a lesson for us all. He's taken steps at his Ridgefield, Washington, home to reduce wildfire risks, including the creation of defensible space around his home. He's also incorporated native, fire-resistant plants on his property overlooking a wildlife refuge. (Learn more about preparing your home from wildfires.)

 

Dawdy, a retired division chief with Clark County Fire & Rescue, has also safeguarded his home's interior. The home is protected with fire sprinklers, a technology that Dawdy has personally witnessed keep fire damage to a minimum. (Read our new section highlighting common questions on fire sprinkler installation.) "It's a remarkably safe building because of all of these different features," Dawdy told The Reflector.

 

NFPA commends Dawdy for the efforts he's taken at his new home. We hope his retirement is a happy and fire-safe one. 

 

Photo: The Reflector 

In the Canadian town of Calgary, astonishing things are happening. Brookfield Residential, a developer for the town's newest development (called Livingston), has decided to place fire sprinklers in all of the new community's homes. That's 10,000 single-family homes and 5,000 multi-family units protected by this feature. Anticipating the installations, NFPA was in Calgary in 2016 offering free training on NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes to buiilding inspectors and plan examiners. 

 

More recently, a live burn/fire sprinkler demonstration occurred at Livingston that reaffirmed the developer's decision. According to a news story on the event, there have been more than a dozen major home fires in Calgary within the past month. "Customers who do buy one of these homes will see the value of the homes, especially when they choose to sell it. There's an embedded value there, with this additional, life safety system," Kurt Kadatz, Brookfield's communications manager, told the news station.

 

Watch the news clip featuring the new Livingston community and burn demonstration. The clip begins at the 4:50 mark. 

How bad has the fire problem been in Virginia this year? Consider this: since the start of 2018, about one resident has died every four days from fire. State data points to a 40 percent increase in civilian fire fatalities when comparing 2018 first-quarter fire data with last year's. 

 

"We need to be mindful of the fire risks in our homes," Chief Michael Reilly, executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs told The Roanoke Star.  Virginia's leading cause of fire fatalities this year is careless smoking and improperly discarded smoking materials. The median age of the victims is 70 years old, a reality that coincides with NFPA data proving that 30 percent of fatal home fire victims were at least 65 years of age.

 

While Virginia State Fire Marshal Brian McGraw stressed the necessity of smoke alarms and fire escape planning, he also made a pitch for home fire sprinklers, specifically to protect his state's aging population. "Our data indicates that older adults are more likely to die in a fire because they lack the ability to exit quickly," he told the publication. "However, residential sprinklers contain or extinguish fires while they are still small and reduce the risk of dying in a home fire by nearly 80 percent."

 

In May, Virginia joined more than 20 states promoting this technology during North America's first Home Fire Sprinkler Day. "By joining forces coast to coast [during this event], communities debunked persistent myths, helped consumers learn the facts before they build or buy a new home, and urged their local officials to support sprinkler codes," says Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy and president of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. 

 


Before you can promote the solution to home fires, you must underscore the problem to your public and decision makers. Follow Virginia's lead; use local data to underscore your regional fire problem. (Visit UFSA's database of 2018 home fire fatalities in the news.)Then use our free advocacy resources to show your community how to combat it. 

Indian Hills, Colorado, is weighing a home fire sprinkler requirement, basing the consideration partly on water supply concerns and firefighter response times. 

 

A resolution to sprinklering its new homes was introduced by Randy Rudloff, fire marshal for the Inter-Canyon Fire/Rescue. He told the Canyon Courier that the majority of new construction is happening outside of the town's water district. Another source for the story stated Indian Hills' mountainous geography impacts its water supply. Home fire sprinklers aid the environment by reducing water usage to fight a home fire by upwards of 90 percent when compared to traditional firefighting tactics.

 

The news report also adds that Indian Hills has longer fire response times, something home fire sprinklers can address, since the technology reacts immediately to fire. According to NFPA's "U.S. Experience With Sprinklers" report, where sprinklers were present, flame damage was confined to the room of origin in 97 percent of fires. 

 

The town's fire board decided to table a May vote on the resolution to discuss it further. 

You didn't have to look far to notice one of the stars of NFPA's Conference and Expo, happening this week in Las Vegas. Getting its time in the spotlight was the fire sprinkler, with NFPA dedicating an entire section of the expo floor to this technology. 

 

This area, called The Annex: Focus on Suppression, featured NFPA experts discussing various areas of fire suppression. On display was a "fire sprinkler petting zoo," where attendees could view the various fire sprinkler heads created over the years. Compliments of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), there was also a fire sprinkler riser display seen in sprinklered homes. (Here's how you can create your own.) A popular, physical takeaway was HFSC's new fire sprinkler prop, a great tool safety advocates can use to demonstrate the simplicity of fire sprinklers. 

 

Not at our conference? Visit our Fire Sprinkler Initiative for more information on this technology and how to promote its importance in your area. 

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