Live burn at NFPA headquarters showcases the power of home fire sprinklers

Blog Post created by lcapland Employee on May 22, 2019

An unsprinklered room reaches flashover in less than two minutes.


If you have a fire in your home today you are more likely to die than you were in 1980. Home fire sprinklers can significantly cut fire risks and are the most critical technology available to stop a home fire from becoming deadly.


In recognition of Home Fire Sprinkler Week (May 19 – May 25), fire leaders, life safety professionals, and media gathered at NFPA headquarters in Quincy, MA to witness a powerful side-by-side live burn and fire sprinkler demonstration hosted by the Fire Sprinkler Initiative®, a project of NFPA® and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition® (HFSC). Seeing is believing. And so is smelling, feeling and hearing.


The first part of today’s demo illustrated how quickly fire ravages a room and its contents, while the second part showed the quick, lifesaving benefits of home fire sprinklers. The differences were stark.


During the burn the smoke alarm sounded six seconds after flames appeared. By one minute and fifty five seconds the room was fully engulfed. Quincy firefighters quickly extinguished the fire. In the sprinklered room, the story began in much the same way with the smoke alarm activating at the same time, but at 10 seconds the fire sprinkler began to douse the fire. Attendees witnessed two identical rooms with identical contents set on fire with very different outcomes.

Less than two minutes to escape a home is vastly different from the 15 minutes that people had to get out of a burning home back in 1980. In the past, rooms featured older style construction and furnishings that consisted of solid, larger dimension lumber that withstood fire longer than the unprotected lightweight manufactured materials present in homes now. Today’s lightweight construction and modern upholstered furniture burn faster and release twice as much heat compared to “ordinary” combustibles like wood, paper, wool and linen. Larger open spaces in residences are also exacerbating fires because flames have more opportunity to breathe and spread quickly.


Quincy firefighter demonstrates all is good, thanks to sprinklers, just 10 seconds after fire started.


U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,319,500 fires in 2017 which caused 3,400 civilian deaths. Roughly 80 percent of these fires occurred in the home - the very place people feel most safe. When sprinklers were present, the likelihood of dying in a home fire decreased by about 85 percent, and 97 percent of the time the fires were kept to the room of origin.


Sprinkler technology does not come at an exorbitant cost; installation in new construction runs, on average, $1.35 per sprinklered square foot. Yet, well-funded interest groups continue to generate misleading information to the public and home buyers. Given more than 100 years of sprinkler success, it is concerning that this technology is not in every occupancy being built today. We know better.


“We’re still facing obstacles for the installation of sprinklers in homes.” Dr. Denis Onieal, Assistant United States Fire Administrator said. “One of the reasons we are having Home Fire Sprinkler Week is to overcome those obstacles with education and information.”


“We know that sprinkler technology is our best bet for knocking down fire quickly. It is our best bet for reducing harm to people, property and first responders,” NFPA President Jim Pauley said. “We must mobilize and debunk the misleading information that some well-funded interest groups share about sprinkler technology.”


Massachusetts Deputy State Fire Marshal Maribel Fournier asked the crowd to help foster informed discussions, “We can change the future face of fire and turn devastating fires into ho-hum events that don’t make the nightly news, if we build more homes with fire sprinklers. Ask for them when building a new home.”