Earlier this week, CBC reported over 40 racehorses perished in a fire that consumed a stable in Ontario, Canada reminding us how extreme weather can significantly hamper fire response and lead to catastrophic results. Although dozens of firefighters labored to extinguish the flames, temperatures in the single digits froze water lines, hindering the fire service’s efforts. Additionally, a lack of fire hydrants close by meant firefighters had to truck water in from surrounding areas. The barn did not have fire sprinklers. The result was that every horse inside the stable perished.
Along with debilitating factors like cold weather and insufficient hydrant placement, addressing the evacuation needs of horses and household pets is important. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests creating evacuation kits for pets to use in case of fire, and reminds pet owners not to delay their own evacuation to search for pets.
Without a full investigation, it is impossible to say with 100% certainty that sprinklers would have saved all of the horses in this tragic fire, however, it is safe to say that they would have played an important role in suppressing the fire, adding valuable time for rescue efforts and reducing damage to the facility. Unfortunately, incidents like this one are not unique. Thousands and thousands of animal lives are lost to fire each year, making the argument for fire protection stronger and stronger.
NFPA 150, Standard on Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities recognizes that installing automatic sprinklers is one of many ways to help protect animal housing facilities. The unique hazards associated with each facility and the specific needs of certain animal species prevent sprinklers from being an overall solution for all animal housing facilities, and therefore, sprinklers are not required in all animal housing facilities. While fire prevention is the easiest way to save animal lives, the hazards associated with barns or stables and the high value of racehorses makes installing sprinklers an attractive protection option. Where sprinklers are required, NFPA 150 requires compliance with NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, which requires complete coverage - including attic spaces.
In 2010, fire sprinklers were credited with saving 35 racehorses from a fire at the Plainridge Racecourse in Massachusetts.
NFPA offers several resources related to animal housing structures and the evacuation of pets and horses in the event of a fire, including:
- A preparedness guide for household pets, featuring tips for safely removing pets, an instructional video and a checklist for making a pet evacuation kit
- A dedicated resource for horses, which focuses on the unique challenges posed when evacuating large animals
- NFPA 150, the standard that applies to life safety in animal housing facilities
NFPA provides free access to more than 300 consensus codes and standards; and offers complimentary fire and life safety tip sheets for downloading, printing and sharing to spread the word about fire safety.