NFPA Journal®, July/August 2010
For Utawna Leap, caring for her daughter isn’t just a full-time job — it’s a round-the-clock responsibility. Incapable of walking, bathing, and eating on her own, Lianna Bryant—a doe-eyed 8 year old with quadriplegic, mixed-type cerebral palsy — needs assistance to complete even the simplest tasks. Lianna’s mobility is primarily dependent on a $42,000 wheelchair that she maneuvers with head movements. "I will always be with her because I’m not allowed to die — that’s a rule," says Leap jokingly. "But it really concerns me if something happens and I can’t respond."
Leap’s concern prompted her to research a number of home fire safety measures while designing her new home in Madison Township, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Completed in 2008, the 2,400-square-foot, stairless dwelling includes evacuation doors, ample open space for Lianna to maneuver her wheelchair, and a sizable garage for getting Lianna in and out of a specialized van. A sprinkler system was also installed per NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. "I was frugal with a lot of things, but sprinklers were a must," says Leap, 41, a divorced Realtor. "They weren’t optional. People would rather have fancy countertops in their kitchens than [safeguards] to protect the ones they love. Lianna has made the world very clear to me — what is important, and what is not."
Leap has shared her story publicly in her support of NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative, a nationwide advocacy effort that was launched last year. The FSI encourages the use of residential sprinklers in new construction through increased sprinkler awareness and through the adoption of local ordinances or model codes. The campaign’s new online toolkit — including fact sheets, videos featuring fire victims, and an array of social media components — debuts this fall on the FSI website, www.firesprinklerinitiative.org.
It was Leap’s public battle with her local water company over her new home’s sprinkler system that transformed her into a sprinkler advocate. She claimed the company’s hookup cost for a fire-suppression system exceeded similar fees assessed in other states; the company offered a rate reduction, but Leap argued the amount was still too much. Unwilling to compromise on her desire to make sure the house was sprinklered, she eventually drilled a private well.
"Utawna’s story is a great example of how valuable fire sprinklers can be," says Gary Keith, vice president of Field Operations & Education at NFPA, and chair of the board of directors for the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. "Sprinklers give you added time to get out of a house during a fire, which is even more important for people who need more time to get out or have no ability to get out on their own."
"My kid is now the best advocate for sprinklers," Leap says. "Everywhere we go, she’s looking for them. She can identify all sprinkler types, whether they’re wall-mounted, recessed, or ceiling. Since she can’t speak, she’ll look at you, then look at the sprinkler until you notice it."
— Fred Durso, Jr.
In this Section:
|NFPA + Disabilities: Where We've Been, Where We Are, Where We're Going
A look at some of the many efforts NFPA has undertaken to address the needs of people with disabilities.
Mother + daughter sprinkler advocates.
Transportation accessibility manager
Deaf and hard of hearing emergency preparedness expert.
Fire department chief.
Disabilities policy advocate.