A fire safety progress check, and a call for new Faces of Fire
NFPA Journal, March/Arpil 2013
When I was a kid, traveling with my family on some kind of road trip, I often asked, “Are we there yet?” The answer was usually, “Not yet.” The same question can be asked about the acceptable number of fire deaths in the United States. And the answer should be the same, as well.
YOUTUBE VIDEO CLIP
Hall County firefighter Angie Roache is NFPA's latest Face of Fire. Watch more "Faces of Fire" videos on firesprinklerinitiative.org/
In the late 1970s, about 6,000 people died in home fires each year. Today, that number is around 2,600. The number of people injured in home fires has been cut from about 21,000 to 12,000 a year, with codes and standards, public education, and the widespread use of smoke alarms all combining to reduce that number. In 2012, a number of major cities, including New York City and Philadelphia, announced some of the lowest numbers for fire fatalities since they began keeping records. While we have made great strides against fire, however, there is more that can be done.
NFPA launched the “Fire Sprinkler Initiative: Bringing Safety Home” project in 2009. Armed with compelling statistics and research reports that show sprinklers are an effective, inexpensive way to reduce the losses associated with fire, we stepped up our efforts to push for home fire sprinklers as a requirement in all new one- and two-family homes.
The facts are clear. Sprinklers reduce civilian fire deaths by 83 percent and reduce direct property damage per fire by 69 percent. Recent research also shows that sprinklers reduce civilian fire injury medical costs by 53 percent and are responsible for an estimated 65 percent reduction in fireground injuries for firefighters. Sprinklers cost about $1.61 per sprinklered square foot in new construction.
While the numbers are key to making our argument, there is also another critical component to this effort — the stories of individuals who have been affected by fire. Every home fire has an impact on real people. They are the first responders and occupants who die in those homes, and their families and friends whose lives are forever changed. They are the burn survivors who must go on. They are the community members whose neighborhoods are altered. They are the building officials and water purveyors who deal with the rebuilding process in the wake of tragedy. They are the builders who recognize that sprinklers could have saved much of what was lost. They are all the Faces of Fire.
In 2010, NFPA added Faces of Fire to the Fire Sprinkler Initiative. Many of those people have been featured in stories and ads in NFPA Journal. One of the first to be profiled was Princella Lee Bridges of South Carolina, who was severely burned in a home fire. Another is Chief W. Keith Brower, Jr., of Loudoun County, Virginia. A home fire trapped four of Brower’s firefighters, seriously injuring one. Most recently, Sam Davis of Cape Coral, Florida, stepped forward to tell his story. He is a successful builder who includes home fire sprinklers in every new home he builds—not because he has to, but because he knows that if even one life is saved from a fire it will be worth it. The stories vary, but the message does not: Home fire sprinklers save lives and reduce property loss.
NFPA is looking for more Faces of Fire. If you know of one, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re making progress, but we aren’t there yet.
Lorraine Carli is vice president of NFPA’s Communications division.