Published on October 1, 2016.

Better House

A Connecticut family loses its home to a fire and rebuilds with home fire sprinklers

ASK AALIYAH BRITTIAN how she likes her new house, and this is what she’ll tell you: “It’s better than what it was before.” That’s because the house she shares with her mother, Michelle Allyn, and older sister, Lexie, is protected by home fire sprinklers.

The same could not be said for the family’s previous house. On the evening of October 8, 2014, Michelle and her daughters were settling in for the night at their home in Lisbon, Connecticut. They’d had dinner, and Michelle was getting ready to do some studying for a course she was taking when she heard an odd popping noise. “I thought it was the TV and didn’t really think of it,” she says in a new “Faces of Fire” video, produced for NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative. “I started seeing a bright light through my front door. I opened the door and the whole side [of the house] was illuminated, but I still couldn’t see the fire. I went outside and could see the whole carport was on fire.”

She ran into the house and yelled to the girls that there was a fire and they had to get out. “They thought I was kidding,” Michelle recalls. Even though they were skeptical, the girls grabbed a fire extinguisher from the kitchen and ran outside.

Lexie’s voice grows soft as she remembers seeing the blazing carport. “We saw the flames, and I was like, ‘Oh wow—our house is on fire,’” she says. They all got out safely, and no one was hurt in the fire.

The house was engulfed when firefighters arrived and was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished. Investigators were unable to determine a cause but ruled that it was not caused by the family.

As Michelle scrambled to find a temporary place to live, the family wrestled with the sudden upheaval the fire had brought to their lives. Even the concern of friends and neighbors added to the strangeness. “I felt like a charity case,” Lexie says. “I was like, ‘I don’t want your help, you can go now, like, goodbye.’ I don’t really like asking people for help … it felt like I was just like a zombie going through life.”

Rebuilding a safer home on the site of the previous house was a necessity for Michelle, especially after her father, a local fire chief, told her about the value of home fire sprinklers. “I never had a question [about installing sprinklers] after he explained how it works,” she says.

The girls, though, especially Lexie, had concerns about sprinklers because they thought the sprinklers could be activated by their mother’s cooking habits. “She burns everything,” says Aaliyah.

“Yeah… [I thought] the sprinklers would go off and all our stuff would be wet,” Lexie adds. “I do burn a lot of food,” Michelle admits, “but we explained to her that no, that wouldn’t happen, the temperature has to reach a certain point before the [sprinklers] go off—they’re not set off by smoke.”

Lexie quickly came around and is now a supporter of this life-saving technology. “It gives you a peace of mind that, like, if there is another fire, the sprinklers will [control] the fire … and we can get out as fast as possible.”

“I feel a lot more comfortable living in this home,” says Michelle of a benefit of home fire sprinklers. “If my kids are home alone, God forbid something happens, they would have time to get out of the house. It’s just a lot more peace of mind so you don’t have to be nervous all the time.”

Top Photograph: © 2016 Bob Handleman Images, LLC