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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.

The legislative Regulation Review Committee in Connecticut has formally approved new safety codes, including a State Building Code, Fire Safety Code, and Fire Prevention Code that will fall short of nationally recognized standards and fire safety requirements. The Connecticut codes all go into effect by October, but none will include requirements for residential fire sprinklers that are part of nationally recognized safety codes. As a result, the Connecticut codes fall short of using proven measures to keep Connecticut families and firefighters safe from fire.

 

The previous version of the Connecticut codes, which the committee rejected, underwent an extensive, public approval process for more than 18 months that included input from experts in construction, development, engineering, and fire safety. The original proposed State Building Code included a provision that would require fire sprinklers in new townhome construction, but following fierce opposition from homebuilders and other special interests, state legislators who sit on the committee chose to strip that provision before approving the code.

 

“The breakdown of the code process in Connecticut is indicative of a larger problem that jeopardizes safety for residents across the country,” said NFPA President Jim Pauley. “The fact that months of work and input from experts was discarded at the eleventh hour behind closed doors shows how special interests like the homebuilders have hijacked this process. They continue to put their bottom line ahead of saving lives.”

 

The fire services community, first responders, burn advocates and others worked with the Connecticut Fire Sprinkler Coalition to support the fire sprinkler requirement in Connecticut because of sprinklers’ proven effectiveness in protecting people and property; the death rate is 81 percent lower in homes with fire sprinklers than in homes without them.

 

Every edition of U.S. model building codes since 2009 has included the requirement to install fire sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes. The use of current codes ensures jurisdictions benefit from the latest research, technology, and learning regarding safety. Research has shown that the clear majority of consumers expect the government to implement and enforce up-to-date codes.

 

“Connecticut residents should not be forced to live in substandard homes when the code process is taken over by the special interests,” Pauley said. “Connecticut legislators have a responsibility to keep people safe, and they have shirked that responsibility.”

 

This action comes after the much publicized death of a six-year old girl in a Plainfield, Connecticut, home in 2016 only months after the family moved into the newly built home. That home has now been rebuilt with sprinklers, a clear admission that this simple technology saves lives.

 

Failure to use the latest version of fire and life safety codes or cherry-picking requirements within them can lead to safety breakdowns in communities. Get to know NFPA's Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem and learn how adhering to these eight elements can keep your community safe from fire and other hazards. 

Developers need to know that installing fire sprinklers in their new homes can be a financial win. Serious dollars can be saved via reducing construction and infrastructure costs if sprinklers are included in new homes. If you're lacking the tools or strategy to pitch these incentives to your local developers or decision makers, new resources can help. 

 

The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) has developed a new package underscoring nine steps for promoting home fire sprinkler incentives. In turn, these incentives and increased fire protection play a vital role in addressing community risk reduction. Communities with or without a requirement to fire sprinkler new homes will benefit from this approach. The new site includes resources, videos, and tactics for promoting fire sprinkler incentives during each step of the process. In a nutshell, here are the nine steps:

 

1. Understand NFPA 13D. Helping developers and decision makers learn the facts about NFPA's residential sprinkler standard will help combat popular myths on this technology. 

 

2. Identify home fire sprinkler incentives. Discuss the financial savings reaped by developers if they sprinkler their homes (less hydrants, more homes permitted to be built, etc.)

 

3. Explain how incentives benefit developers and communities. A developer, for example, that embraced sprinkler incentives saved $1 million.  

 

4. Discuss how home fire sprinklers are tied to community risk reduction. Each new home built without sprinklers makes the community less safe for all. By protecting new housing stock, existing resources can be directed at high-risk populations and existing unsprinklered structures.

 

5. Understand your new housing forecast, and get involved. You need to be in contact with a developer as they are designing their project. Additionally, get to know your city planner.

 

6. Identify your stakeholders. Know and reach out to your local officials, water purveyors, and anyone else with a stake in new home construction.  

 

7. Understand the incentives that will work in your community. One size will not fit all. Before offering any particular incentive you need to develop an understanding of local preferences and politics.

 

8. Use HFSC's free resources during your pitch. There's a PowerPoint presentation, videos, and other tools.

 

9. Agree on an incentive offer. There's guidance on the pre-application meeting, preliminary plan, and final plan. 

 

Visit the HFSC's website and learn how to follow these nine steps when promoting home fire spinklers to developers and your community. 

A big complaint from our safety advocates is that fire sprinkler activations don't get nearly as much media play as home fires. Or, when an activation occurs, the media focuses more on the "damage" than what was actually prevented. 

 

Giving credit where credit is due, we highlight the following media outlets who have prominently--and accurately--promoted sprinklers. With headlines like "Sunday fire shows value of sprinkler systems" and "Fire sprinkler makes quick work of Ridgefield blaze," they are giving sprinklers the attention this technology deserves. Kudos to our advocates for their perfect quotes, too. 

 

Headline: "Canby apartment fire contained by sprinklers"
Canby Herald

 

A residential fire last month didn't require much intervention from firefighters, since fire sprinklers extinguished the fire by the time they had arrived. "Without the fire sprinkler system, the fire would have grown before we arrived and would have caused severe damage to the structure and displaced several tenants," Captain Nikki Hietschmidt with Canby Fire in Oregon, told the news outlet. 

 

Pointing to NFPA research on fire sprinklers was Chase Browning, chair of the Oregon Fire Sprinkler Coalition. He also told the Canby Herald that any damage associated with a fire sprinkler activation would be significantly less than fires in an unsprinklered residence. 

 

Headline: "Sunday fire shows value of sprinkler systems"

Post Independent

 

A Colorado resident was tinkering with a car inside his garage when the vehicle somehow caught on fire. Sprinklers quickly activated, and by the time firefighters from Colorado River Fire Rescue arrived, they only needed to mop up some water. Smoke alarms alerted the residents in the other four townhomes to evacuate, but had sprinklers not been present, officials feared the fire could have impacted those units. Addressing new homeowners, Colorado River Fire Rescue Fire Marshal Orrin Moon says they should "look to add sprinkler system right away." 

 

"The long-term goal for all fire departments is to see residential sprinklers added for every home," he adds. 

 

Headline: "Fire sprinkler puts out fire in Huntington home"
Patch.com

 

For the second time in a matter of weeks, a residential fire in Virginia's Greater Alexandria area was doused by sprinklers. The latest activation occurred when an incense stick ignited a living room end table. Nobody was injured from the fire. 

 

 

Headline: "Fire sprinkler makes quick work of Ridgefield blaze"

The Columbian

 

Hot oil and fries were the culprit of a kitchen fire in Washington State. The stove and nearby cabinets caught fire, but the home's fire sprinklers quickly tackled the blaze. Similar to the sprinkler save in Colorado, all firefighters had to do was mop the floor. "These simple, inexpensive fire sprinklers really do their job," a spokesperson for Clark County Fire & Rescue told the publication. 

 

And since we love sprinkler saves, here's a final one sent to us from members of the South Dakota Fire Sprinkler Coalition:

 

The resident was lighting incense and Isopropyl alcohol on the bathroom counter and the fire flared. The sprinkler activated, and the resident immediately evacuated with minor burns to his hand and abdomen. 

 

Send NFPA your sprinkler saves, and we'll share them with our army of fire sprinkler advocates. 

There's growing concern pertaining to chemical flame retardants used in upholstered furniture. While aiming to improve fire safety at home, these chemicals have gotten the attention of health advocates, who highlight research linking these chemicals to cancer and other ailments. Striking the right balance between fire safety and health concerns is key, but there's another solution that must be brought to the table: home fire sprinklers. 

 

That's the stance of Meghan Housewright, director of NFPA's Policy Institute. In her latest column appearing in NFPA Journal, she points to extensive research on fire's devastating impact on homebuilding materials; homes with large, open floor plans; and upholstered furniture filled with synthetics that some safety advocates have described as "foam gasoline."

 

"The search for a path that won't compromise fire safety or health should lead policymakers straight to an existing, toxin-free solution: home fire sprinklers," says Housewright. "As policymakers contend with the health ramifications of the flame retardant chemical debate, they cannot lose sight of the very real fire problem. 

 

"[Outside of Maryland and California], nowhere else do statewide directives exist to follow [a model building code requirement to fire sprinkler new, one- and two-family homes], meaning the vast majority of the country's homes are built without fire sprinklers."

 

Read Housewright's column in NFPA Journal for more information. 

On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, fire safety measures appear to have been prioritized following last year's high-rise fire at the Marco Polo building in Honolulu. Killing four people and injuring others, the fire received international attention since it occurred soon after the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in London. Hawaiians impacted by the Marco Polo fire have taken action in some unique ways. 

 

Earlier this year, the building's condo owners voted to install fire sprinklers in their units, a move praised by city officials. "Even if you upgrade everything--your elevators, your doors, your alarm system--and you get all the bells and whistles, but if you don't get a fire sprinkler system, when that building catches fire, it's still going to burn," Captain Scott Seguirant with the Honolulu Fire Department told Hawaii News Now. A paramedic interviewed for the story agreed, saying that any technology ensuring the safety of the public and emergency responders is a good thing. 

 

A new Hawaiian law passed after the fire now offers financial incentives to condo associations for fire sprinklering their homes. It also requires fire safety evaluations to buildings 10 stories or higher within three years, reports Hawaii News Now. 

 

The victims' families have also been busy, establishing the Community Kokua Foundation for Fire Prevention and Recovery. The nonprofit's mission is to push fire prevention and assist survivors emotionally or physically impacted by the Marco Polo fire. 

 

Similar to what's occurring in Honolulu, all communities must work together to help solve its fire problem. Please read this commentary from NFPA President Jim Pauley on how breakdowns in the fire prevention and protection system contribute to the global fire problem. 

Safety advocates are taking their sprinkler education and advocacy on the road, literally. 

 

Members of the Oregon Fire Sprinkler Coalition developed this bus ad promoting home fire sprinklers that includes the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) website. The Oregon coalition tells NFPA that the ad was funded via a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency administered to the City of Medford Fire-Rescue and Ashland Fire and Rescue.  

 

Lacking funds or creativity to create a public awareness campaign on fire sprinklers? You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Download these effective public service announcements from HFSC, for print and web, including this PSA that dispels one of the biggest Hollywood myths on fire sprinklers:

 

Members of the Maine Fire Sprinkler Coalition recently participated in a town council workshop that discussed strengthening the town of Gorham's fire sprinkler requirement. According to an news story, Gorham subdivision homes must include fire sprinklers if not served by "an approved fire pond or public hydrants" or rest on long, dead end streets. More than 260 of these homes have sprinklers, but fire officials want this technology included in all new homes.

 

In a town with a six- to eight-minute response time, the proposed ordinance to sprinkler all new homes is like  "putting a fully staffed fire truck in each home with a one-minute response time at zero cost to taxpayers," Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre told the news outlet. 

 

Not only will the ordinance's expansion help reduce home fire injuries and protect the town's fire service, it will also help reduce homeowner insurance costs. "What we're talking about is long-range planning," Lefebvre adds. 

 

This month, the town council will discuss the ordinance, which will be addressed at a public hearing before possible adoption, states the story. Check this blog for any updates to this story. 

Residential fires have already killed more than 40 people in South Carolina this year. Fire sprinklers can help end these tragedies in new homes, but the state lacks a requirement to sprinkler these dwellings. That's not stopping one advocate recently interviewed on a TV news station. Trying to sell sprinklers to potential homebuyers (and hopefully getting the attention of state decision makers) is one advocate who adequately answered the question, "If I fire sprinkler my new home, what's in it for me?" 

 

"Some insurance agencies offer [financial] incentives," Kyle Minick, executive director of the South Carolina State Firefighters' Association and member of the South Carolina Fire Sprinkler Coalition, told an NBC news affiliate. (Minick was also a recipient of a Bringing Safety Home Award, distributed by NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.) "I know [my insurance agency] did ... I got a reduction." (Download NFPA's fact sheet on home fire sprinkler discounts.)

 

Minick added that local homeowners can also write off 25 percent of expenses related to the system on their property and income taxes. And there's the life-saving aspect of fire sprinklers; NFPA's "U.S. Experience With Sprinklers" report notes that: 

 

  • the civilian death rate was 81 percent lower in homes with fire sprinklers than in homes without them
  • the average firefighter injury rate was nearly 80 percent lower when fire sprinklers were present during fires
  • when sprinklers were present, fires were kept to the room of origin 97 percent of the time

 

When promoting fire sprinklers to the public, please make sure you're promoting these incentives, and any other local discounts. 

Photo: GoFundMe

A devastating fire in Middletown, New Jersey, took the lives of an 18-year-old girl and her pet dog. Aubree Larusso, recent graduate of Middletown North High School, was trapped in her bedroom when the fire started. Also home during the fire were her mother, brother, and a family friend, but all escaped unharmed, according to the Middletown Patch.

"Her bedroom was off of the living room area, and the fire originated in or near the living room. The fire blocked her access to leave the home," Chris Swendeman, a spokesman for the local county prosecutor, told the Patch. The cause of the fire was deemed accidental.

Aubree’s cousin, Casey Kwiatkowski,  created a GoFundMe page for the LaRusso’s recovery efforts. The town’s high school has also been offering counseling for those grieving. Friend and neighbor Bethany DePalo told NFPA, “It’s crazy to think she’s gone. I feel like everyone in the town is affected by her passing. Word spread very quickly, and in a way this unbelievable tragedy is actually bringing people closer together.”

Another New Jersey fire recently made headlines this month when five children from Union City were killed in a residential fire. New Jersey legislators have introduced home fire sprinkler bills this year in an attempt to prevent these disasters from happening in the future. For more information on additional sprinkler-related efforts in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Coalition page.    

While constantly promoting the aesthetics of homes with open-concept designs, popular home improvement shows rarely (if ever) discuss its fire concerns. We underscore this issue in the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter. Watch a news clip underscoring how fire sprinklers mitigate the fire risks in these settings.

 

The newsletter also features stories on:

 

  • a New Jersey tragedy involving five children
  • our podcast series that is reaching new audiences via national recognition
  • an anti-sprinkler TV ad, and how advocates are fighting back

 

Take 30 seconds to become a better advocate for home fire sprinklers; sign up to receive our free, monthly newsletter today.

Aftershocks from a catastrophic fire in San Francisco's Mission Hill neighborhood are still felt throughout the city; some of the nearly 60 residents are still displaced following the 2015 fire that occurred in a mixed-use building. The fire killed one resident and injured six others. According to reports, the unsprinklered building had repeated safety violations. And one lawmaker is telling repeat offenders with similar violations that enough is enough. 

 

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen has introduced legislation requiring landlords with buildings constantly flagged with safety violations to upgrade or install fire sprinkler and alarm systems. California's new homes currently require fire sprinklers. The new law would give the city's Department of Building Inspection and Fire Department the authority to order a building owner in an existing, unsprinklered residence with at least two fire safety violations to make these upgrades. Moreover, the upgrade costs cannot be passed on to the tenants, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. 

 

The news outlet also reports that between 2004 and 2016, the city experienced more than 250 residential fires that were two alarms or more. This legislation is "another tool for the city to use so tenants have a level of safety," Tommi Avicolli Mecca with the city's Housing Rights Committee told the Chronicle. “There is a problem with buildings that have violations that could lead to fires, and sometimes they go years without being abated. There’s got to be a way that we can protect people when you’ve got these bad actors."

The Massachusetts Legislature is debating if local communities can require national fire safety measures in new home construction, particularly, requirements for home fire sprinklers. Currently, these communities don't have that option. The bill, H2481, is intended to allow local communities to create their own fire sprinkler requirements, thereby protecting Massachusetts families and firefighters. 

 

The Massachusetts Fire Sprinkler Coalition is urging legislators to act on this bill, which is currently in committee. Their reason is clear; there were more than 57,000 fires in one- and two-family homes in the last decade. Moreover, these fires caused more than 200 deaths and close to $830 million in property damage. 

 

There is broad-based support for this measure; organizations supporting the bill include the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, the Fire Prevention Association of Massachusetts, and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. The coalition is urging Massachusetts residents and safety advocates to contact Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, 617-722-2990, and ask him to support H2481. Please take this important step for a bill that would give communities the option to enact their own home fire sprinkler requirements. 

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