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According to a news story by the Civil Beat, the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Hawaii organized a party to celebrate what it called a "big win." This "victory" was the extension of a state law prohibiting local jurisdictions from adopting their own requirements for fire sprinklering new homes. Set to sunset this year, the prohibition has been officially extended to 2027. The BIA played a crucial role in its passage. 

 

Then, tragedy struck. Fire broke out at the state's Marco Polo apartment building on July 13, killing three people. The building lacked fire sprinklers. The celebration was immediately cancelled. 

 

As the state debates mandatory retrofits for its high-rise buildings, the tragedy has further illuminated the sprinkler ban and the homebuilding industry's efforts to keep fire sprinklers out of the place where most Americans are dying from fire.

 

The Civil Beat reports that the BIA stated on a fundraising page that "it's critical to stop this insanity now," referencing fire sprinkler ordinances that could "kill our construction and remodeling industry." (NFPA's research and case studies have consistently countered this myth.) Fire safety groups, including NFPA, opposed the ban and submitted letters to the state legislature promoting their position.

 

Hawaii Democratic Senator Breene Harimoto sided against the sprinkler prohibition, telling the Civil Beat that the local fire service convinced him of the fire dangers of the modern home environment. These threats included unprotected, lightweight construction and upholstered furniture filled with flammable synthetics. 

 

 As is the case in Hawaii, sprinkler opponents across North America are working diligently to prevent fire sprinkler requirements. Please do whatever is in your power to convince your local decision makers of these threats and the impact of home fire sprinklers. If you need some assistance, download the Fire Sprinkler Initiative's new PowerPoint presentation. 

Members of the Oregon Fire Sprinkler Coalition have found a gem of a homebuilder. With 40-plus years experience in the building business, Steve Asher's forte is custom homebuilding and remodeling. Another astounding tidbit about this Oregon-based builder and president of Asher Homes, Inc.: roughly 75 percent of his homes are equipped with home fire sprinklers. 

 

Why, in a nation with anti-sprinkler opponents mainly from the homebuilding industry, does Asher take a different tone? The answer stems from a critical, fire service partnership and the reality that, as Asher puts it, fire sprinklers in new homes "are easier than you think."

 

In an exclusive interview with NFPA, Asher discusses his support for this technology and why he's dumbfounded about his industry's sentiment on sprinklers.

 

NFPA: Describe your introduction to home fire sprinklers. 

I grew up with my family working in the U.S. Forest Service. Forest fires have been in my life since I was born. I live on rural property and always wondered why people aren't doing more around their homes to make them fire safe. Many rely on the fire department. Also, in Ashland [Oregon] it’s very steep. Fire trucks can have issues getting into certain areas.

 

I'd do quite a few upper-end custom homes. When you start building larger homes in my area, it's mandatory to install fire sprinklers. But I also got into building houses for retired fire marshals moving here. They would tell me, "We’re putting in fire sprinklers." We're going through everything we need to do to build a house and I’m going, “Why am I not doing this for everybody?”

 

Are you always mentioning fire sprinklers as an option to home buyers?

Yes. While I don't install them in all of my homes, I suggest it and try to convince them to do so. While working with my customers and designing the home with them, it’s always been an option to bring up. People initially seemed against it. One, they’re afraid their whole house will flood. We have to mention that's not going to happen. Two: "I don’t like the look of fire sprinkler heads." I tell them there are now concealed heads. You have to convince people, so I take them into [sprinklered] houses to show them, and they forget they’re looking for fire sprinkler heads. They go, “This is nice.”

 

With my clients, I do a line item cost breakdown. I go through every one one of those items, and fire sprinklers are one of those line items. I ask them how they feel about fire sprinklers. Are they familiar with them? Understand them? We have a conversation about that. In certain situations we tell them that they should put in fire sprinklers. The technology is very simple. 

 

Has installation costs been an issue for you or your clients? 

The Ashford/Medford region has stopped charging commercial water rates for water [used for fire sprinklers].That was one of the biggest deterrents for my clients. I would tell them, "Then there’s $2,500 for a meter, and you’ll be paying 18 percent more for your water even though you’re not using it." I've worked with Marguerrite [Hickman, former division chief and fire marshal of Ashland Fire & Rescue] to address this. I’ve been adamant for years that if you get rid of this issue, you’re going see a whole different attitude towards fire sprinklers. And we are. [Changing the cost structure] was paramount in changing some of the resistance I had as a builder. 


Where else do you think the homebuilder resistance to fire sprinklers stems from? 

I can only think that for a lot of builders forced into [installations], it’s another pain-in-the-butt thing they have to deal with.  I’m not your typical builder on that end of it because I’ve been involved in forest fires around my property. I know how dangerous fire is. 

 

What do your clients tell you about living in a sprinklered home?

We do have conversations about that. I do follow-ups with all my customers. Most comments come from their friends who moved to the area in a home not built by me and say, "I can’t believe the builder didn’t bring [fire sprinklers] up. Why didn’t we get one?"

 

Since you have such a rich history of fire sprinkler installations, what would you say to the opponents out there?

It's a disservice not to offer sprinklers to a customer. We’re building a home. Everything should be about fire and life safety. We care about making sure our ingress/egress are the right size. Here we have a component of home construction that offers the most safety to its occupants. Why would you not offer it? I don’t really get the opposition, to tell you the truth. 

 

Watch a public service announcement on fire sprinklers featuring Asher currently being televised throughout Oregon. 

Close to 40 people have already died from home fires in North Carolina this year. Plagued every year by the same types of preventable deaths, a fire official is flabbergasted by the real reason they continue in his state. "It all comes back to cost," Fire Chief Jeff Cash with the Cherryville Fire Department in North Carolina recently told WSOC-TV.

 

He's referring to installation costs for home fire sprinklers--estimates that research confirm are cost-effective, but tend to be inflated by fire sprinkler opponents. "I think the cost association with protection that's going to be in place just doesn't make sense to me," homebuilder Mike Carpinelli told the news station. 

 

Despite the North Carolina Building Code Council opting to not adopt the building code requirement for fire sprinklers, Cash and others are trying again to require this technology in new homes. "I understand the economic side of it, but what cost do you put on human life?" Cash told the reporter. 

 

One bright spot in North Carolina: in an effort to cut the cost of home fire sprinkler installations, the Alamance County Inspections Department in North Carolina is now offering a discount. Get some additional inspiration by checking out the advocacy efforts by the North Carolina Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Have you read NFPA Journal's special issue dedicated entirely to home fire sprinklers?

 

If not, please do, particularly since the magazine was recently honored by the Association Media & Publishing. At its EXCEL Awards in June, the issue received gold in the category "Single Topic Issue." Also receiving praise was the editorial "Facing Opposition" written by Lorraine Carli, NFPA's vice president of Outreach and Advocacy; the column received silver in the category "Editorial Opinion Piece." As stated in her column, Carli states, "the fire service, for instance, has always been the leading champion of fire safety and a consistent, respected voice for prevention. But that voice has been less consistent regarding home sprinklers, and at a time when aggressive advocacy and education are needed most. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of understanding about the value of home fire sprinklers, a bit of fatigue in a long fight, or something else. But it surfaces in places where you don’t expect it."

 

The rest of the issue is also a must-read for any fire safety advocate. It details how homebuilder opposition and dollars have impacted sprinkler requirements across the U.S., the misconceptions those overseeing water supplies have about home fire sprinklers, and a 20-year commitment to sprinkler education, made possible by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition

 

Please read the issue, and let us know your feedback about the issue by responding directly to this post. 

A state campaign aimed at slashing fire deaths and injuries places home fire sprinklers in the limelight.

 

Underscored in a recent news story by the Franklin County Times, the Turn Your Attention to Fire Prevention campaign was launched in Alabama to promote methods residents can take to prevent fires and avoid injuries. One of these methods is the installation of home fire sprinklers. The campaign's site includes a downloadable "neighborhood assist toolkit" featuring NFPA's fact sheet on this technology, including the following tidbits: 

 

  • Fire departments typically use roughly 10 times as much water as a fire sprinkler would use to contain a fire
  • Fire sprinklers are environmentally friendly. They can reduce the amount of water run-off and pollution, fire damage by up to 71 percent, and water usage to fight a home fire by as much as 91 percent 
  • Cigar smoke or burnt toast will not activate a fire sprinkler. Only the high temperature of a fire will activate the sprinkler

 

If home fire sprinklers aren't currently a component of your fire prevention endeavors, get started by downloading the Fire Sprinkler Initiative's new advocacy toolkit.

Last month, Illinois' Downers Grove Village Council voted on a proposal to require fire sprinklers in its new homes. Though many of the nearly 40 single-family-home fires in the village over the past five years resulted in more than $100,000 worth of damage, the council, citing some popular sprinkler myths, sided against the proposal, according to a recent news story.

 

Despite one of the council's commissioners, Marge Earl, losing her childhood home to fire, she did not seem to support the ordinance, telling MySurbanLife.com that "sprinklers would have not prevented the fire because it originated inside the home's walls." While fire sprinklers can't prevent fire from starting, the technology is stellar at extinguishing it or keeping it under control until the fire department arrives. 

 

Earl also mentioned that fire sprinklers would be a "financial burden" on families, another popular statement made by sprinkler opponents that NFPA has addressed via extensive research. Another commissioner wanted homeowners, not his council, to make the call on sprinkler installations in their home. Since fire sprinklers have been a requirement in all U.S. model building codes since 2009, fire safety advocates argue that those who have developed each edition of these codes have deemed fire sprinklers a crucial, life-saving aspect of today's home environment. Homeowners, for instance, don't get a say in other mandatory construction features meant to protect them. Why, they argue, should home fire sprinklers be any different?

 

According to the story, officials were also concerned with "inspection and maintenance costs." If installing home fire sprinklers in accordance to NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinklers in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, any basic inspection or maintenance can be performed by a homeowner at no cost. (Check out these simple steps from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.)

 


Please help spread the facts about fire sprinklers to your community and decision makers. Learn all the myths, and please share these facts provided by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

Photo: Twitter

 

Praised by local fire safety advocates, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey recently signed into law a bill allowing plumbers to install home fire sprinklers. The legislation's intent is to broaden the number of certified individuals allowed to perform home installations. Some say the increased competition could help reduce installation costs. 

 

The new law, according to a news story by a local CBS news station, requires master plumbers to take 32 hours of specialized training before conducting installations. Fire safety officials hope the new law increases awareness and use of this technology, viewed as a key lifesaver if fire occurs in a home. 

 

”It’s not uncommon for us to pull up and [the fire is] expanded beyond one or two rooms and is involving the attic or an entire floor just in a matter of four or five minutes,”  Vestavia Hills Fire Lieutenant Randy Farrell told the news station.

 


Need more proof that home fire sprinklers can benefit your community? Take a look at these community case studies developed by NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

The Deerfield-Bannockburn Fire District is the latest Illinois community to adopt a building code requirement to sprinkler new, one- and two-family homes. There are now 104 Illinois communities with a sprinkler ordinance on the books. 

 

Fire Chief Ian Kazian and Fire Marshal Brian McCarthy have spent months educating the town's board of trustees on this technology, using resources from NFPA and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. They recommended that the fire district comply with the latest model building codes requiring fire sprinklers in all new homes. The trustees--Phil Bettiker, president; Jeff Hansen, secretary; and Kim Barkemeyer, treasurer--passed the new ordinance during their May board meeting. 

 

 

The Illinois Fire Sprinkler Coalition and NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative congratulates the district for its commitment to home fire safety!  

 

 

In the latest edition of NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter, read about a legislator urging other decision makers to require fire sprinklers following the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in London. The newsletter also includes stories on: 

 

  • a developer who reaped financial benefits after deciding to fire sprinkler new homes
  • a town now offering discounts on home fire sprinklers
  • the first Canadian province to form a fire sprinkler coalition

 

Got 30 seconds? Sign up to receive NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter and stay educated on crucial news pertaining to home fire safety and legislation on this issue. 

Keith Flood, chair of the Connecticut Fire Sprinkler Coalition, discusses home fire sprinklers and a crucial state building code update with a local reporter.

 

The perpetual myth from fire sprinkler opponents that "nobody is dying from fire in new homes" was proven wrong in the worst way last year. A six-year-old girl from Plainfield, Connecticut, died from a fire in a new home her family moved into only months before the incident. Local fire officials have confirmed that the home had at least one working smoke alarm. 

 

Looking to finally end these tragedies, members of the Connecticut Fire Sprinkler Coalition are urging a state building code committee to finally adopt the model building code requirement to sprinkler new homes. The Codes Amendment Subcommittee of the Connecticut Codes & Standards Committee met this week to discuss the adoption, focusing heavily on a 55-page report developed by the coalition. The report addresses 13 topics pertaining to home fire sprinklers--among them, installation cost and water protection concerns--that the subcommittee wanted addressed. "We want to make sure people get out of their homes safely, live in their homes safely, able to live safely,” Coalition Chair Keith Flood told a reporter attending the subcommittee meeting. The news story also highlighted Connecticut residents Michelle Allyn and her two teenage daughters, who lost their home from fire and rebuilt with fire sprinklers. The family was featured in NFPA's Faces of Fire campaign last year. 

 

In a prepared statement to the media, the coalition applauded the subcommittee for considering the sprinkler requirement: "Updating Connecticut's codes to comply with national model safety codes, and requiring sprinklers in new, one- and two-family homes, will protect families throughout the state and cost less than other fire safety measures." 

 

The subcommittee will vote on August 9 whether or not to recommend the inclusion of a fire sprinkler requirement to the state's larger Codes & Standards Committee. Please check this blog often for updates to this story.

 

Please watch NFPA's video featuring the night Michelle Allyn and her daughters lost their home to fire and how it altered their lives: 

 

Set to sunset this year was a law in Hawaii prohibiting counties from adopting requirements for fire sprinklers in new, one- and two-family homes. According to a Hawaiian news station, the Building Industry Association of Hawaii, the same opponents that pushed for the original law, recently pushed to extend this ban permanently. A legislative bill would have made this permanent prohibition possible. 

 

Instead, the Hawaii State Legislature decided to extend the prohibition by 10 years, now set to expire on June 30, 2027. Hawaiian Governor David Ige recently signed the legislation into law.

 

Prior to its passage, safety advocates voiced their concerns with new homes unprotected with fire sprinklers, including a fire captain who shared his story of a fire in his own home. 

 

We know that setbacks to adopting fire sprinkler requirements are demoralizing. Even if laws in your region prevent sprinkler requirements, those laws don't prohibit you from staying vocal about fire sprinklers in every new home. Before sprinkler bills are even introduced, start educating your legislators about your town's home fire problem. Link them up with our free resources as a starting point.  

In an effort to cut the cost of home fire sprinkler installations, the Alamance County Inspections Department in North Carolina is now offering a discount. 

 

Through its new Fire Sprinkler Incentive Program, the county is discounting the cost of a new home permit by 50 percent if fire sprinklers are installed. Moreover, the county is waiving all fees charged for the plan review or fire sprinkler permit. According to a news release on the new incentive:

 

 

Congratulations to Alamance County for initiating an ingenious discount aimed at increasing the use of home fire sprinklers.  If you'd like more information on this incentive, please contact Robert Key, the inspections department director. Perhaps you can convince your town to introduce a similar discount. 

Thus far, close to 80 people have been killed from the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Attention has been partly placed on the structure's lack of fire sprinklers and the technology's presence in both existing and new residences. A lawmaker wants other decision makers to start embracing the fire safety aspect of sprinklers via sprinkler requirements in the wake of this tragedy. 

 

"What I would like to see is the U.K. government [take] a leaf from Wales," Welsh legislator Ann Jones told the BBC. She was recently honored by NFPA for her influential role in passing Wales' requirement to sprinkler all of its new dwellings. Wales is the first country to pass such a requirement. "I would like to see the U.K. government and the ministers put a commitment that they will put fire safety higher up the agenda - that they will stop talking about the costs because, for me, it's a small amount of money to have.

 

"I was astonished to see how U.K. ministers could inflate costs of installing sprinkler systems and yet we see the tragedy that's happened." Some legislators seem to be getting the message, as efforts are now under way to fire sprinkler certain residences in certain areas of London. 

 

In North America, the same lofty, cost estimates and cost-cutting efforts prohibiting fire sprinklers have resulted in similar tragedies in one- and two-family settings. (Research has consistently countered these myths.) Please read NFPA President Jim Pauley's commentary on the London fire and how today's fire problem is the result of a "broken system." 

Fire chief Keith Brower was en route to a home fire when mayday was called. "I was approximately seven to eight miles out, and my heart stopped,” Brower says. “It literally froze me. It was chilling.”

 

Fortunately, four firefighters escaped the burning home, but one sustained serious burns. His injuries forced him to retire. “When I see this firefighter, I don’t know what to say,” Brower says, “I really feel awkward saying, "Hey, how’s it going?‟ because I know how it’s going. He’s partly incapacitated. He can’t do the job he loves."

 

Brower has been a vocal advocate for home fire sprinklers since the 2008 fire, often wondering why such a life-saving device has such equally vocal opponents. "We used to have a saying that we could fight fire in a building for eight hours," he says. "The building would burn down before it would fall down." With newer home environments, he adds, that's not the case. 

 

People from all walks of life are impacted by home fire. Please watch and share Brower's story, one in a series of NFPA's Faces of Fire campaign: 

 

Showcasing North America's growing support for home fire sprinklers, the province of British Columbia initiated Canada's first fire sprinkler coalition this month. 

 

NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative has updated its sprinkler coalition map to include the country of Canada, the new coalition (which advocates are calling the British Columbia Fire Sprinkler Initiative), and the 30, state-based coalitions. Prior to the official launch of the coalition, Canadians have voice their support for sprinklers in unique ways. For instance: 

 

  • The Co-Operators, a Canadian insurance company that vocally supports home fire sprinklers, has partnered with NFPA to produce this stellar video on this technology: 
  • A new study by Canadian researchers determined that home fires have cost the Canadian economy $7.6 billion

 

Visit the new British Columbia Fire Sprinkler Initiative page for more information on Canada's efforts to promote home fire sprinklers. 

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