Author(s): Scott Sutherland. Published on December 29, 2014.

WHEN BOB CAPUTO HEARD ABOUT the Arizona home that was being renovated for Cory Remsburg, his first thought was, “We need to get home fire sprinklers in there.”

Pipes for Cory
Slideshow of installing home fire sprinklers in a home for a wounded veteran. Photos provided by Bob Caputo and Craig Remsburg.

Like a lot of people around Phoenix—and, for that matter, across the country—Caputo, executive vice president of compliance solutions for Telgian Corporation and a member of the NFPA 13 Installation Committee, had become familiar with Remsburg’s story and wanted to help. In 2009, Remsburg, a U.S. Army Ranger on his tenth combat tour, sustained a traumatic brain injury in a roadside explosion in Afghanistan. He was in a coma for more than three months, was left blind in his right eye and partially paralyzed on his left side, and was unable to walk or talk. Years of grueling therapy later, Remsburg, now 31, has limited mobility—he uses a wheelchair about 80 percent of the time, according to his father, Craig—and he speaks slowly and with great effort.

But his perseverance, personality, and willingness to speak out on veterans’ issues have won him some powerful admirers, including President Barack Obama, who highlighted Remsburg’s courage in his State of the Union address last year. Flanked by his father and by First Lady Michelle Obama, Remsburg stood in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol during the address and was greeted with an emotional standing ovation. Remsburg waved and flashed his trademark thumbs up. “It was the overall picture of the wounded warrior,” Remsburg recently told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I just happened to be the face.”

In support of Remsburg’s goal to live independently, the Ranger Lead the Way Fund, a non-profit organization that supports disabled Army Rangers, purchased a house for Remsburg for $256,000 near Phoenix. Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors—a foundation formed by Allen, a defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, that builds and remodels handicapped-accessible homes for wounded veterans—got involved, and is helping to fund $418,000 of renovation work on the roughly 2,000-square-foot house. That includes a thorough reconfiguration of the home and the installation of many features compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including ramps, wider doorways, and wheel-in showers. The house will be equipped with smart-home features for alarms, electronics, climate control, and a host of other functions. A separate 500-square-foot guest/caretaker space has been added to the property. The backyard includes a swimming pool next to a custom-built tiki bar, the latter a specific request from Remsburg.

“For me to be able to leave Cory on his own, knowing he’ll be taken care of, all of those things are necessary,” says Craig Remsburg, executive vice president of human resources and organizational development at Telgian. A longtime industrial fire chief with McDonnell Douglas before joining Telgian, Remsburg is a member of NFPA’s Industrial Fire Protection section, and serves on the Loss Prevention Procedures and Practices Technical Committee. “When Bob came to me about putting in sprinklers, we said absolutely, let’s do it. As an important part of ensuring Cory’s safety, sprinklers complete the picture for us.”

Caputo says he was prepared to design and install the system himself, but the more he talked about it in the Telgian offices, the more people volunteered to help. He made a list of companies that he thought might be willing to donate additional materials, and called Daniel Wake, the fire protection product manager at Victaulic, to see if they’d donate the sprinkler heads. Wake told Caputo that Victaulic would handle everything needed for the installation. What materials they couldn’t get donated, Victaulic purchased, Caputo says. “I ended up just coordinating everything,” Caputo says. “We had more volunteers than there were pipes to put in.”

A joint Telgian/Victaulic team met at the house on a Saturday in November and installed the system to the specifications of NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. Craig Remsburg says the home will be ready for Cory in late January.  

Bigger picture

Caputo says a larger goal related to the Remsburg project is to approach organizations that are providing homes for wounded veterans and make sure that home fire sprinklers are an integral part of the construction and renovation work. Some organizations, including the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, which includes NFPA, have already done work in this area, but Caputo wants to spread the message to a wider pool of stakeholders. “The reaction I’ve gotten so far has been fantastic,” says Caputo, who plans to begin his campaign in early 2015. “I don’t see how our industry wouldn’t step up and do whatever it could to help these organizations and the veterans who can benefit from them.”

Craig Remsburg thinks Caputo can get it done. “You can see the passion Bob brings to this—I know he was really impacted by Cory when he met him,” says Remsburg. “I think with the right base of contractors and suppliers, and the right themes, this could take off.” Remsburg says Caputo’s plan is a natural fit with one of Cory’s goals, which is to advocate for resources to transition wounded veterans back into communities following active service.

Allan Fraser, senior building code specialist at NFPA and an expert on life-safety issues for people with disabilities, says sprinklers should be a priority in homes for anyone with Cory Remsburg’s physical challenges. “These people are so busy just trying to live their lives that it’s hard for them to become a political force to advocate for sprinkler requirements,” he says. “But when they do, there are a lot of people willing to listen.” Fraser said NFPA’s advisory committee on disability issues would be interested in Caputo’s lobbying effort.

Caputo says a long, hot, dusty day of sprinkler installation was worth it when Cory, his father, and his service dog, Leo, showed up. Everyone shook hands and snapped a few group shots with their phones. At one point Cory looked up at a sprinkler. “He says, ‘So, is all the piping properly aligned?’” Caputo says, a comment that got laughs from the installation crew. “Everyone’s a comedian in this group.”

SCOTT SUTHERLAND is executive editor for NFPA Journal.