NFPA Journal, November/December 2012
This past summer, the worst drought in more than 50 years fed wildfires and crippled crop production throughout the West, the Midwest, and the South. The historic combination of widespread high heat and too little rain dramatically underscored our reliance on water and the critical need to conserve it.
Ironically, responsible water use is one of the most obvious benefits of home fire sprinkler systems. In fact, a study conducted by FM Global for the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) showed that fire sprinklers reduce water use to fight a home fire by as much as 91 percent and dramatically reduce water pollution resulting from suppression efforts.
Nevertheless, water supply requirements for sprinklers are not well understood and often are not accurately presented. That’s due in large part to groups working to prevent the adoption of state and local residential fire sprinkler requirements, which often quote erroneous claims that home fire sprinkler systems require complicated public water supply connections and increase demand for water services.
In many states, we’ve seen water distribution policies cause confusion between commercial and home fire sprinkler systems. And when these policies are developed and perpetuated as a result of sprinkler myths, communities end up paying the price. It’s time for the fire service and other home fire sprinkler advocates to help local water providers recognize that fire sprinkler systems are good for both fire safety and the environment.
To accomplish this, HFSC has developed a new, comprehensive educational tool about home fire sprinklers and water supply. Funded by a FEMA/Department of Homeland Security Fire Prevention & Safety Grant, HFSC’s new Home Fire Sprinkler System Water Supply Guide includes video and print information that provides a basic overview of home fire sprinklers and water usage.
The purpose of home fire sprinklers is life safety, and sprinkler success stories around the country routinely reinforce that goal. Sadly, each day also typically brings a tragic home fire loss that could have been minimized if sprinklers had been installed. Every new housing development that is built without sprinkler protection is a fire safety failure for the community.
To avoid those failures, our job is to help everyone understand the tremendous value of protecting one- and two-family homes with this lifesaving technology. We can’t stop at local officials, consumers, and homebuilders. We need stronger and more consistent outreach to the water purveyors. HFSC and NFPA are working at the national level through interaction and participation with the American Water Works Association. But nothing could be more important than grassroots outreach. The greatest impact will come from you and your one-on-one dialogue with your local water supplier. They need the facts about home fire sprinklers and water use, and you’re the right person to deliver them. HFSC’s new guide is a good way to start the conversation.
You can download free information for water providers on the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s website at HomeFireSprinkler.org, or you can link to HFSC through the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative website at firesprinklerinitiative.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook.com/HFSCorg, and you can follow HFSC on Twitter at @HFSCorg and on Pinterest at pinterest.com/hfsc.
Gary Keith is NFPA’s vice-president of Field Operations and Education and is chair of the HFSC Board of Directors.