NFPA Journal, May/June 2010
If you’ve been working in the field of fire and life safety for a while, I don’t have to tell you how challenging it can be to educate the public about home fire sprinklers. Whether the audience is consumers, homebuilders, public policy officials, or the media, this is a topic that is rife with myths and technical misunderstandings. To effectively get our messages out, it takes facts, innovative outreach, and, more than anything else, perseverance.
Fortunately, we have a new tool in the home fire sprinkler education arsenal to help us succeed. Thanks to a joint research project of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) and FM Global, we now have proof that, in addition to saving lives and protecting property, home fire sprinklers are good for the environment.
The landmark research documented that, in a sprinklered-home fire, greenhouse gases — that is, carbon dioxide — are reduced by 99 percent, compared to a fire in a home without fire sprinkler protection. Water usage is cut in half. And with 97 percent less property damage in a fire in a sprinklered home, there is less waste deposited in landfills.
Obviously, no one is going to install a sprinkler system just to protect the environment. What this unprecedented data offer us, however, is a fresh new way to talk about fire sprinkler protection. Now we have a “green” story to help grab the audience’s attention so we can focus on life safety.
You may wonder why one of the world’s largest business property insurers would invest in a project focused on home fire safety. Actually, FM Global has been a pioneer in many aspects of fire sprinkler technology throughout its 175-year history, including residential sprinklers. With this breakthrough research, FM Global has made a vital contribution, not just to HFSC, but to the entire field of fire safety education. Many thanks to Dr. Lou Gritzo and Dr. Christopher Wieczorek for their assistance in this project.
I also have to tip my hat to Don Bliss, president of the National Infrastructure Institute. Participating in one of HFSC’s strategic planning sessions a few years ago, Don urged the HFSC Board of Directors to pursue a research goal documenting the environmental impact of home fire sprinklers. It took some time, but thanks to Don’s idea and our partnership with FM Global, we got it done.
The green angle is the latest in the undeniably stronger national advocacy for residential sprinklers, and the momentum is growing. I encourage you to use the new HFSC/FM Global environmental findings to round out your own home fire sprinkler outreach efforts, both locally and at the state level.
The findings are a natural for inclusion in press releases, open houses, high school science programs, and other safety presentations. The full report can be found at HFSC’s website, www.HomeFireSprinkler.org.
You can get involved in the sprinkler advocacy effort by visiting NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative website at www.FireSprinklerInitiative.org.
Gary Keith is NFPA’s vice-president for Field Operations & Education, and is chair of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.