AUTHOR: Lorraine Carli

Fire in Natick, MA

Home fire sprinkler myth goes up in flames in deadly MA fire

For years NFPA and fire and life safety advocates have refuted erroneous myths and battled pushback to increasing the use of home fire sprinklers in new one and two family homes despite the inclusion of this provision in all building codes for more than a decade. One of those myths - that new homes don’t burn - proved disastrously wrong when one person in a newly constructed home lost his life in January to a fast moving fire in Massachusetts. Based on the real estate listing, the home was built in 2019. According to news accounts, the fire service was unable to reach the man as the fire was well underway when they arrived. Unfortunately, this scenario matches the facts and research. Today’s homes burn hotter and faster because of unprotected lightweight construction and modern furnishings. While in decades past you may have had about seven to eight minutes to escape a home fire, now you may have as little as two minutes to get out. Smoke alarms are essential in providing early warning to occupants but should be combined with home fire sprinklers to keep fires small and give people time to escape. NFPA research shows that the risk of dying in a reported home fire is about 80 percent lower where sprinklers are present. The local fire chief was quoted in a press release following the event saying, “Despite the best efforts of our Public Safety Dispatch system and our fire department, the fire consumed the contents and spread throughout the structure within minutes,” explained Natick Fire Chief Michael Lentini. “These tragedies shouldn’t happen in new homes in our quaint community or anywhere in our Commonwealth. We know that fire sprinklers buy time for the occupants to escape and for fire departments to arrive. I hope this tragic event can bring decision-makers together to increase education and awareness of the danger of fire.” Massachusetts has omitted the home fire sprinkler provision from its building code and not acted on a bill that has been repeatedly filed that would allow local communities to enact requirements on sprinklers. Massachusetts Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition Chair and Retired Fire Chief Paul Zbikowski was quoted in the same press release saying, “We constantly ask ourselves how we can reach the public so that they understand how quickly fires occur with today’s modern furnishings. Everyone says that new homes won’t burn. Well, this is an example that that is simply not true. We must re-evaluate our Massachusetts Code and not remove the provision that can address this threat straight on. We are essentially building sub-standard homes when we leave this life safety feature out.” It is heartbreaking to see this type of story when we have the knowledge and means to better protect citizens and first responders from fire. Massachusetts should join other states and jurisdictions that have required all new one and two family homes to be built with home fire sprinklers. Learn more at the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative.  Photo: NBCBoston.com
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COVID-19 Presents Fire Prevention Week Organizers with a Host of Challenges, but Many Have Gotten Creative. You Can Too.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forcing most people to adjust their routines, it comes as no surprise that this year's Fire Prevention Week (FPW) will also look a bit different in many communities. That doesn't mean the campaign will have any less impact. If anything, the unique situation we are in has forced all of us to get creative and adopt a few innovative approaches that, I believe, will boost awareness and participation in FPW activities both this year and into the future.   As Fire Prevention Week officially kicks off today, we all need to maximize the opportunity to promote this year's theme, “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen!”. Cooking fires are the leading cause of home fires in the US and the second-leading cause of home fire deaths. With most people forced to stay home, the number of us cooking at home has also increased, and fire departments across the country are anecdotally reporting an uptick in kitchen fire incidents. All this makes the campaign's messages even more relevant and timely. While the realities of COVID-19 made it apparent that most of our tried-and-true approaches to communicating FPW and its messaging—things like open houses at fire stations and school events—won't occur, the importance of doing things differently to effectively reach the public with cooking safety messages is critical. The fire and life safety community has been working diligently to rise to the occasion. One idea I heard about that I love is the drive-by fire-safety open house. Instead of inviting parents and kids into the fire station to see the trucks and get FPW material, why not bring the truck and material to them? Early in the pandemic, many fire departments took part in birthday parades and other celebrations in their communities; the drive-by event takes the idea a step further by handing out information along the route. Webinar participants suggested that departments could use community data to target the truck events at neighborhoods with higher numbers of fires.   Another great idea is to develop and use a range of new community partnerships that could help spread the FPW message. For instance, local restaurants and food-delivery services could bring information directly into homes by including it on pizza boxes, putting it in grocery bags, or finding other ways to deliver handouts. Local theaters and event venues could include key messages on marquees to add to community visibility while providing an awesome backdrop for selfies worthy of social media sharing. In addition to these methods, NFPA has developed digital assets to support this year's FPW, including a full suite of sharable social media cards, as well as ramped-up, curriculum-based learning activities to teach and entertain young children, whether they are in a classroom or at home. We have also seen safety departments take the lead in creating their own digital assets and online contests to promote our theme of safe cooking behavior. They have also encouraged their staffs, family members, and communities to post their own photos, videos, and even TikTok dance moves that amplify our safety messages. In the week ahead (and beyond!), we encourage you to do the same when and where possible. While FPW may be a little unconventional this year, the importance of our collective effort is the key to making our communities safer. 
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NFPA Headquarters Turns Red to Honor Fallen Firefighters

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) headquarters in Massachusetts looks a little different this week as it is lit in red as part of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters.  The building will remain red from dusk to dawn through this Sunday, the beginning of Fire Prevention Week, to honor those firefighters who have died in the line of duty. NFFF is inviting individuals, communities, organizations, and landmarks to make this symbolic gesture to demonstrate that we remember our nation's heroes and appreciate their sacrifice.   Each year NFFF, which was created in 1992 to lead the national efforts for fallen firefighters, sponsors the NFFF Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg for those firefighters who died in the line of duty the previous year. It is a fitting and moving tribute that honors those lost and supports their families as they move on with their lives. That would have been this weekend.   Unfortunately, like so many other things, the physical event has been postponed; but there are a number of activities taking place in addition to Light the Night. A live virtual production entitled America's Tribute to Fallen Firefighters will premiere on Sunday at 10 am. It can be viewed on the NFFF home page and social media channels. Fire departments and others are also encouraged to participate in Bells Across America, ringing bells shortly before 10 am on Sunday. The bell holds special significance in the fire service, sounded when a firefighter dies in the line of duty.   This year 82 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2019 and 21 firefighters who died in previous years will be recognized. Their families will participate in a full weekend of activities in 2021.   You can find out more at firehero.org.   NFPA is proud to participate in this observance. We are equally proud, as an organization, for the role we play in reducing loss. Our staff, volunteers, and all those with whom we work, are devoted to making the world a safer place for everyone, including our first responders.
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Fire Safety Messaging is Critical During a Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued over the past several months, I, like so many others have been carefully monitoring the data and following recommendations from leading epidemiologists and public health experts for how to keep myself and my family safe from the virus. NFPA has paid particular attention to how to keep our staff safe. And like many of you on the front lines of fire and life safety education, I have also been keeping an eye on the public's response to this information. What I have noticed is, that while many are following the advice, news reports show many people disregard the reports or refuse to believe what science tells us about the way COVID-19 spreads, and how dangerous the virus can be. While initially surprised to see repeated warnings from top industry professionals fall on some deaf ears, it is not unlike our ability to effectively reach the public with key fire safety messages. We have seen for a long time a general complacency and “it can't happen to me” attitude about fire safety. If ignorance of safety information, data, and directives permeate, how do we more effectively get the word out and how can we capitalize on opportunities to deliver credible information that encourages and empowers people to make better, more informed decisions and take action to protect their families, their personal safety, and their homes. One such way is through Fire Prevention Week. As the longest public health observance on record, Fire Prevention Week is a trusted, established, and long-standing campaign that works as a catalyst for reaching communities with information and recommendations that can easily be understood and integrated into daily life. In June, NFPA announced that the theme for the 2020 Fire Prevention Week (FPW) campaign, which takes place October 4-10, is “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen.” Its cooking safety message is timely for several reasons. First and foremost, cooking is the leading cause of home fires and is responsible for nearly half (49 percent) of all reported home fires involving cooking equipment, according to recent NFPA research. Moreover, unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires, meaning home cooking fires occur most often when people aren't keeping a close eye on what they're cooking. The United States has seen a decrease in fire-related deaths in almost every major category except deaths from home cooking fires. They are, in fact, worse than they were 30 years ago, killing an average of 550 people a year. Sadly, cooking is now the leading cause of both reported home fires and home fire injuries in the U.S. And now at a time when people continue to avoid restaurants for the immediate future and opt instead to do more cooking and entertaining at home, these circumstances collectively create the potential for an increase in home cooking fires. Getting people to recognize that there is still a home fire risk has been challenging. “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen” works to remind the public that fires can and do still happen. It educates the public about the dangers posed by cooking and the simple but effective actions they can take to keep themselves, and those around them, safe in the kitchen. No doubt these are challenging times with no easy answers, but our work to help advocate for and implement fire and life safety in our communities is even more crucial than ever before. Less fires means less burden on our first responders. The work we do for Fire Prevention Week is important to the security and well being of communities everywhere. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to recognize and take full advantage of the campaign not just in October, but all year long. Together, by sharing campaign-related resources and information we can help inspire individuals and families to become their own advocates and embrace their personal role in our safety system. For more information about Fire Prevention Week and this year's theme, “Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen,” in addition to a wealth of resources to help promote the campaign locally, visit our website at nfpa.org/fpw.
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Massive Fire Engulfs Home of Cooking Show Star Rachael Ray and Family; Local Officials Say Home Fire Sprinklers Would Have Made a Difference

A huge fire engulfed the upstate New York home of television host and celebrity cook, Rachael Ray, causing massive damage to the second floor and destroying the roof of the mansion. According to news sources, the house, situated in New York State's Adirondack Park, is in a remote area where there are no fire hydrants for miles. Adding to the challenge of getting water on the scene, according to Warren County's (NY) fire coordinator, Brian LaFlure, “… there was no sprinkler system which is something that down the road we would like people to deal with.” Other fire chiefs on the scene echoed the sentiment saying fire sprinklers “could have stopped the raging inferno.” The issue pointed out by fire officials, remote areas with limited access to water, is certainly one of the values of home fire sprinklers. But there are others. Home fires account for four of every five fire deaths and three of every four fire injuries.The design of modern homes, along with the materials used to build them and highly combustible furnishings, result in fires that burn much faster today than they used to, shrinking the time to escape to as little as two minutes.   Home fire sprinklers are a crucial, life-saving technology that have been proven as the best protection available to minimize home fire injuries and death for both civilians and responding firefighters. According to NFPA research, the risk of dying in a reported home fire is 85 percent lower if sprinklers are present. Having sprinkler systems in homes reduces the risk of dying in a home fire by 50 percent.   Sprinkler opponents are quick to share false information about home fire sprinklers allowing thousands of new homes to be built without this protection despite their inclusion in all model building codes. Research and facts that contradict the myths and false statements about sprinkler systems like installation costs and water usage are readily available to educate others about the dangers of home fires and what they can do to reduce their risk. Simply put, sprinklers are the most affordable, reliable, and effective protection for families. Despite the intensity of the fire, the first floor of the house that includes Ray's state-of-the-art kitchen survived the fire. Thankfully, Ray, her husband, mother, and dog were able to escape the fire without injury.   LeFlure mentioned to news outlets that he would like to see residents deal with sprinklers down the road. To better protect communities, let's shoot for sprinklers being right around the corner rather than down the road. The cause of the fire in Ray's home is under investigation, but initial findings don't point to suspicious behavior.   For more information about the life-saving benefits of home fire sprinklers and free resources to share, visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative websites.      Photo Credit: Hot Shots Fire Video via TMX.news
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