In a popular scene from the 1993 Halloween comedy flick Hocus Pocus, one of the characters holds a lighter up to a sprinkler head, causing several of them to go off at once. Fire sprinkler experts will be quick to tell you that's not the way it works; sprinklers go off individually in response to fire in a specific area, not as a group. It's a common misconception that's been used by Hollywood for years. Countless movies and TV shows including Frasier and The Office have aired scenes like the one in Hocus Pocus.
But sprinkler myths exist away from the big and small screens, too—even in professional industry circles. Some homebuilders have, for instance, been guilty of inflating the cost estimates associated with installing residential fire sprinkler systems.
The latest episode of The NFPA Podcast, Debunking Home Fire Sprinkler Myths, aims to set the record straight. It paints the true picture of how home sprinkler systems can not only be affordable to home owners, but also how they are increasingly offering incentives for builders, such as allowing them to build higher-density neighborhoods.
The episode is anchored by NFPA staffer Robby Dawson's interview with a retired fire chief who decided to retrofit his home with sprinklers. Based on widely broadcast sprinkler myths, it's a project some people might think would be wildly and prohibitively expensive for the average Joe. Retired chief Keith Brower's experience says otherwise.
"Our cost per square foot ended up being $3.52 [for 1,800 square feet], so a little bit more than double the cost of what our national average is for during construction, but clearly it's not in the $15,000 to $30,000 range we've seen builders quote for systems whether they're new or retrofits," Brower says in the episode. He goes on to discuss some of the safety benefits of sprinklers in general, not only for the public but also for first responders.
The issue of first responder safety hits close to home for Brower. In 2008, when he was fire chief in Loudon County, Virginia, one of Brower's firefighters was severely injured in a house fire. He spoke about the incident for a 2010 Faces of Fire campaign video for NFPA, which you can watch here.
Listen to the new episode and past NFPA podcasts at nfpa.org/podcasts. New episodes are released the second and fourth Tuesday of every month.