AUTHOR: Lorraine Carli

Rebuilt North Dakota Rural Fire Station Now Protected with Fire Sprinklers

As we all know, home fires don’t pick and choose where they strike. They can affect anyone, anywhere, anytime—even firefighters.   Fire stations are a home away from home for firefighters, often with cooking and sleeping quarters. Even though firefighters are the station “residents,” when a fire station doesn’t have fire sprinklers installed and a fire strikes, the damage can be significant, especially when the firefighters are out on a call.   That’s precisely what happened to the Glenburn Fire Department in north central North Dakota on March 6, 2021, when their own fire station burned down. The Glenburn Rural Fire Protection District covers a large jurisdiction, including two small cities and numerous farms and ranches.   The station was unstaffed and by the time firefighters got the call it was too late―most everything had been destroyed. An investigation determined the fire was caused by a furnace failure. Fortunately, no lives were lost, and no one was injured in that fire.   BUILT BACK BETTER   Today, the station has been rebuilt and is protected with installed fire sprinklers. Glenburn Fire Chief Mike Overton said it has been a long two years, but now the fire department is up and functioning. He and department personnel are using their experience to raise awareness about fire dangers and the benefits of fire sprinklers.   In fact, the Glenburn Fire Department received a $500 stipend from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), which it will use to hold an educational open house in its new, sprinklered station during Home Fire Sprinkler Week 2023 (May 14–20). In addition to sharing information on home sprinklers, the open house will feature HFSC’s 3D virtual reality and other videos, information on smoke alarms, and more.   One of the key messages to be reinforced is that today’s home fires burn faster and hotter than in the 60s and 70s. Back then, residents had up to 17 minutes to escape a home fire. Now, with synthetic furnishings, lightweight building materials, and open designs, that window has closed to just 2 minutes or less. Fortunately, sprinklers activate quickly, controlling and often extinguishing the fire before the fire department arrives.   Chief Overton says members of the community will learn that having both smoke alarms and fire sprinklers cuts the risk of death in a home fire by 82 percent compared to having neither. He also plans to underscore that sprinklers are green, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 98 percent, fire damage by up to 97 percent, and water usage by as much as 91 percent.   When it comes to educating our communities about the dangers of home fires, seeing really is believing. Chief Overton understands this, and the Glenburn open house will go a long way toward delivering the vital messages through meaningful and memorable presentations to the community. WHAT CAN YOUR COMMUNITY DO?   Your community needs these lifesaving messages, too. A live demonstration or a side-by-side virtual reality video will reveal how quickly a home fire spreads without sprinklers, versus how quickly it’s controlled with installed sprinklers. And as Chief Overton is doing with his station, consider sharing personal stories you may have about fire sprinklers, not just for homeowners, but for firefighters as well.   You can tap into NFPA’s free resources, including safety tip sheets, you can download and share. And for home fire sprinkler content, use HFSC’s free turnkey tools that make it easy for you to educate your target audiences. You can also create a space on your website about the value of building new homes with fire sprinklers. Upload videos and other content. Post cards to your social media accounts. Or simply link to (HFSC’s website is free of advertising and all content is free to you).   No matter how you plan your outreach activities, NFPA and HFSC are here to support your efforts. We look forward to hearing about your successes.

Fire Safety Advocates Ready to Amplify Life Safety Messages for 6th Annual Home Fire Sprinkler Week May 14–20

Fire departments and fire safety advocates throughout North America are getting ready to increase awareness about home fire sprinklers using digital media tools and community outreach events May 14–20, 2023. The weeklong digital campaign, co-hosted by the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative project and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), will amplify key home fire sprinkler messaging with daily themes and turnkey assets anyone can use. Participation has increased significantly since the campaign first started six years ago. During the pandemic, many fire departments were not able to conduct live community events but participated by visiting HFSC’s webpage daily and sending out social media messages. Now many fire departments have planned community events and are using HFSC resources including home fire sprinkler displays, educational banners, brochures, and live fire and sprinkler demonstrations. In addition to sharing our digital messages, many are producing their own short videos. We encourage fire departments to use HFSC’s media resources, like the press releases and radio PSA scripts that can be localized with fire department information. We receive positive feedback from members of the media who visit HFSC’s pressroom and download the broadcast-quality video footage to prepare their own stories. There is nothing more powerful than footage of a living room fire with and without sprinklers. If you have contacts with your local media, make sure you let them know about these high-quality resources. Now more than ever, we need you to participate. In most regions, new home construction is robust, with roughly 1 million new homes projected this year. And a recent survey revealed that 80 percent of millennials would prefer a new home with fire sprinklers once they learned how sprinklers work. That is why public education and community outreach is so important. Please plan to join us this May to populate the digital world with fire sprinkler and safety facts. I think you’ll be impressed with the array of powerful educational tools on HFSC’s dedicated Home Fire Sprinkler Week website. Every day there is a different theme along with corresponding digital content and messaging. You choose which resources to use―or use them all. Whether virtual or in-person, you can customize our digital tools for your audiences and potentially reach new people vital to your community risk reduction initiatives. I look forward to seeing the results as we all work together to spread the word.

Home Security Video Reveals How Fast a House Fire Can Become Deadly and Why Home Fire Sprinklers Are So Important

We’re all used to seeing doorbell camera social media posts, but I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic security recording I watched this past winter. Nothing illustrates how fast a house fire can become deadly than video shot in real time. And this footage captured every minute of a tragic fire in Millers Falls, Massachusetts. Across the street, a home security camera with a clear view of the front of the burning home left a memorable record of its fast destruction.   According to the Turners Falls Fire Department, the fire started in a room on the first floor at the front corner of the house. From the video, flames can be seen in the window, but even as they grow, passing drivers don’t appear to notice. In less than three minutes, the video shows the fire spread to another room and outside the home, catching the moment flashover occurs. At that point you can hear the windows break and the crackling sound of the growing fire on the camera’s audio. Several occupants were able to escape. Sadly, one person and two family pets did not survive this fire.   The owner of the security camera posted the footage on YouTube and allowed local media to use it to report the story. The Massachusetts Fire Sprinkler Coalition saw the coverage and recognized that the recording provided an important opportunity to use as an educational tool. They remembered that the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition had created an educational video a couple years back that showed interior security footage of a fire in an occupied room in a home. That video has received more than 2 million YouTube views to date.   The Coalition approached HFSC and together they produced a short video that pairs the Millers Falls security footage with HFSC’s interior video of an actual living room fire, with and without an installed home fire sprinkler. This dramatic new resource will help viewers understand how destructive home fires truly are and the lifesaving difference when a home is protected with fire sprinklers. We encourage you to share this video (below) as part of your outreach activities in your community.       HFSC focuses its educational efforts on installing fire sprinklers at the time of construction. The Millers Falls fire was in an older home and it’s not realistic to expect older existing homes to be retrofit with fire sprinklers. But the fire footage is a real-life example of how fast and dangerous home fires actually are, and why fire sprinklers are required in today’s codes. This video is proof of why every new construction home should be protected.   For more information about home fire sprinklers and to get free resources to share, visit the HFSC website.
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Two Major Home Fire Sprinkler Advances in Colorado

I’d like to send a loud shout-out to the town leaders of Avon and Erie, Colorado, for scoring huge wins by voting to include home fire sprinklers in their building codes. On December 13, both the Avon Town Council and the Erie Board of Trustees adopted building codes that require all new one- and two-family homes to be protected with installed home fire sprinklers. During the code process in both towns, there was a discussion about passing the code without the fire sprinkler requirement. In response, Erie’s Mayor Pro Tem Sarah Loflin pointed out that sprinkler systems might save multiple homes in an area that’s densely populated. Mayor Justin Brooks added that not having sprinklers would potentially have catastrophic consequences. They and others who spoke in favor prevailed and Erie’s requirement goes into effect beginning April 1, 2023. During a public hearing in Avon, Mick Woodworth, fire marshal from the Eagle River Fire Protection District, which serves the Town of Avon, was also an outspoken advocate. According to Vail Daily News, he said, “We’re community risk management, and if we want to manage the risk in our community, the No. 1 thing is fires — the way we manage that in a home is fire sprinklers.” Avon’s new code will be effective 30 days after approval. We all can learn from the victories in Avon and Erie. They were hard won because of the strong preparation and presentations by their local fire service representatives. Cost inevitably comes up in every hearing. A concern about fire sprinklers affecting affordable housing was raised in Erie. Jeff Webb, fire marshal for Mountain View Fire Rescue, which serves the town of Erie, said that when discussion centered on limiting the requirement to larger homes as a remedy, one trustee provided a very effective counterargument. It would be inequitable to provide safety measures to only those that could afford it. The town should act to make sure all residents purchasing new homes had the same safety features. Just because they were packed tighter to make them more affordable didn’t mean they had to give up safety, when in fact they were at higher risk because they were packed so tightly together. Another excellent strategy in Avon was addressing the role of sprinklers and firefighter health. This is an important point for any sprinkler code hearing and it is essential to have the fire service point of view represented. Besides occupant injury prevention, sprinklered homes protect responding firefighters by controlling fires automatically and keeping them small. These fires are not only less hazardous to fight structurally, but they also produce less toxic smoke. That directly mitigates the problem of responder exposure-caused cancer and other diseases. For more on this, read the FM Global report, which documented that fires in sprinklered homes produce 90 percent fewer carcinogens than in non-sprinkled homes. Discussions in both towns’ hearings drove home the need for better education of all decision makers. If your community does not yet have a building code requiring sprinklers in new homes, strengthen and widen your fire sprinkler outreach now, before future hearings. Reaching your local officials, planners, developers and builders in your community is essential. Above all, they need to know these facts: Today’s unprotected home fires can become deadly in as little as 2 minutes. Homes are where most fire deaths occur. Installed home fire sprinklers prevent injuries, save lives, protect the health and safety of responding firefighters and preserve property. And, most importantly, any home built to today’s codes that lacks installed fire sprinklers is substandard. You’ll be better armed if decision makers have these facts when they are making code decisions. You’ll have less opposition, and they can show their concern for their communities by keeping—or amending in—a new-construction sprinkler requirement. Be aware of your own power. In jurisdictions where home fire sprinklers aren’t in the current code and no update is forthcoming, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and fire marshal should make themselves a regular and vocal presence in the new development pre-planning process to ensure home fire sprinklers are on the table and to include current data and educational content in planning discussions. Tap into our free resources. For helpful safety tip sheets, visit our tip sheet webpage. And for home fire sprinkler content, use HFSC’s free turnkey tools that make it easy for you to educate your target audiences. You can create a space on your website about the value of building new homes with fire sprinklers. Upload videos and other content. Post cards to your social media accounts. Or simply link to – HFSC’s website is free of advertising and all content is free to you.  Bottom line? Home fire sprinklers won’t sell themselves. A vocal, persuasive, tireless leader and activist like you, who exercises your power to influence community decision makers to do the right thing, will protect your jurisdiction for generations to come.

NFPA President Jim Pauley Reflects on Fire Stop Tour, Which Honored Tragic Fire Fatalities in 2022 and Served as Launchpad for Announcing National Fire Strategy

Last week, NFPA® President and CEO Jim Pauley and I participated in a Fire Stop Tour in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. The tour follows the US Fire Administrator’s Fire Prevention and Control Summit in October, the first such event since the 1947 Conference on Fire Prevention and Control hosted by President Truman. The October summit included a roundtable discussion where national fire service leaders made recommendations to national leaders that are now the national strategy to address the fire problem that were announced on the tour. The event in each city began with US Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell providing an overview of the fire problem and proposed action steps. She was joined by representatives from other national fire and safety organizations, including NFPA, the International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Volunteer Fire Council, UL Fire Safety Research Institute, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the National Fire Sprinkler Association, and the leaders of the local fire departments in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. These events paid tribute to the 17 people who died last January when fire broke out in a Bronx apartment building, the 12 residents who died just one week earlier at an apartment fire in Philadelphia, and the many others across our nation who died or were injured in fires last year, some of whom were first responders. Jim’s remarks focused on two key areas. The first was that the tragic events in New York and Philadelphia highlighted an unfortunate truth about fires: they disproportionally impact our most vulnerable populations—older adults, children, people of color, low-income populations, and people with disabilities. In a recent report called “The Invisible U.S. Fire Problem,” sponsored by NFPA, it was made abundantly clear that the demand for safe, affordable housing in the United States often outstrips the available supply. Facing this reality, people often find or create alternative living arrangements, which may fall outside the purview of legal systems of land ownership and tenure, and of planning, land use, building, public health, and safety regulations. These fire problems might seem invisible at the national level, but they are plaguing American cities, undermining the lives and livelihoods of fellow citizens, and having negative impacts on the fire service and neighboring communities. There is a dire need for research, policy, and action to better understand and address these local fire problems. The second key area Jim talked about was the significance of using and enforcing the most current codes and standards. NFPA has a comprehensive set of codes and standards that influence fire, electrical, and life safety in the built environment. During the tour, Jim and I noted one key way to create safer communities— incentivizing local jurisdictions to implement and enforce these latest codes and standards.  Our country is dotted with substandard buildings—the result of the use of outdated codes, lax enforcement, and amending out key safety provisions like those that require sprinklers in all new homes. For example, right now there are more than half a million public housing units in the United States that remain unprotected by fire sprinklers because they were constructed before a 1992 Congressional mandate for sprinklers in new multi-family housing units. And as we know, buildings with sprinklers experience civilian fire death rates at 89 percent lower than those without them.  The main points we worked to drive home during this tour were that safe housing and affordable housing should not be mutually exclusive, and that fire safety in public housing must receive continued, heightened attention. In his video, Jim summarized the task at hand: “As a nation—with the drive and the support of organizations like NFPA, whose very mission is devoted to eliminating death, injury, and property and economic loss—we have a lot of work to do. This week’s meetings with fire safety advocates—and the painful memories of all those we have lost to fire has only strengthened my resolve and determination that all of us working together in tandem—can have a significant impact to reduce the heavy burden of fire in our communities, our nation, and around the world.” A video of the full press event in Washington, DC, is available on C-SPAN. 

New year brings renewed energy to help educate communities about the benefits of home fire sprinklers

We count on the ball dropping in Times Square to usher in each New Year. That’s tradition. But we fire and life safety advocates must not drop the ball when it comes to who we need to reach to increase awareness about the benefits of installed home fire sprinklers. I hope you’ll join me in resolving to focus on outcome-driven outreach in 2023. Residents of virtually any community need to be reminded that every home is improved by a complete system of home fire safety. That includes prevention, early warning with working smoke alarms, having an escape plan and practicing it, and installed home fire sprinklers. We often talk about the first three things. But encouraging home fire sprinkler installation in new homes needs more attention. With sprinklers only required statewide in California, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., we can’t rely on widespread new-home sprinkler requirements to achieve this goal but there is more that can be done. In many markets, new single-family home construction is still strong, so reaching individuals who plan to build a new home before they lock in is important. Consumers need to understand the facts about home fires as well as the unrivaled benefits of installed home fire sprinklers. I talk to folks all the time who say their public outreach directly led to consumers deciding either to build a home with fire sprinklers or buy one that had sprinklers installed. That’s a classic example of an outcome-driven educational program and a good model for all of us. You know that today’s home fires can become deadly in as little as two minutes and that homes are where most fire fatalities occur. But don’t count on your local officials knowing that. Educating local decision-makers and others involved in new home construction can – and does –result in sprinklered homes, impacting a large number of people. So, make sure you’re reaching planners, building officials, builders, developers and water purveyors, too. They need your help to understand the impact of structure fires not just on residents, but on firefighter health and safety and the well-being of your entire community. Another strategy that pays dividends is local code advocacy. When jurisdictions are reviewing its residential code, lend your voice and expertise to the arguments in favor of not reducing safety by not taking out the home fire sprinkler requirement. Your role is valuable and unique, because many of those in positions of power may not understand why the code as developed includes home fire sprinklers. You can speak sincerely and with experience to the very real dangers of omitting sprinklers from local codes. What they don't know can hurt them. A code updated without fire sprinklers results in substandard housing, something your community’s decision makers don’t want on their shoulders. If fire sprinklers are not in the current code and no update is on the horizon, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and fire marshal should make themselves a regular and vocal presence in the new development pre-planning process. This is an excellent opportunity to share data and educational content. Ahead of approvals, make a presentation about how home fire sprinklers can be used to offer local home developer incentives if the entire development is protected with installed fire sprinklers. I guarantee many sitting around that table with you simply don’t realize that these incentives lower developer costs and can actually increase their revenue. What developer is going to argue with that? Clearly, safer homes are a win-win for your community. But only when people understand the dangers and recognize the benefits. So, let’s not drop the ball on our local outreach. As always, NFPA is here to help. Tap into our free educational resources and get helpful safety tip sheets to share. And for home fire sprinkler content, use HFSC’s free turnkey tools that make it easy for you to educate your target audiences. You can also create a space on your website about the value of building new homes with fire sprinklers. Upload videos and other content. Post cards to your social media accounts. Or simply link to – HFSC’s website is free of advertising and all content is free to you.  Whatever action you decide to take in the new year to increase awareness about the importance of home fire safety and the benefits of installed home fire sprinklers, let NFPA and HFSC help guide your way. Keep us updated throughout the year on your progress; don’t forget to share your thoughts, lessons learned, and your successes with us! By working together, we can help ensure safer communities in 2023 and for many years to come.
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