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Mythblaster Monday 3: Home Fire Sprinklers & Smoke Alarms

For many, fire sprinklers are like ocean buoys: people know of them, and that they do something important. But that is often where consideration stops, and the same can be said for home fire sprinklers.

We continue to see misinformation from sprinkler opponents and with this weekly series we aim to set the record straight, tackle the myths head on, and prove they just “don't hold any water”.

The first myth we're addressing can have particularly dangerous consequences:

Myth: I have smoke alarms, so I don't need home fire sprinklers.

Truth: Smoke alarms detect, sprinklers protect.

Smoke alarms are indispensable and decrease the risk of dying in a home fire. But they cannot fight the fire itself.

A recent NFPA report found that in home structure fires from 2013-2017, the fires caused an estimated average of $6.9 billion dollars in direct property damage per year and an annual average of 2,620 civilian deaths. Sixty-nine percent of reported home fires from that five-year period occurred in one- or two-family homes. A fire can become deadly in as little as two minutes. So while a smoke alarm is vital for alerting people to escape, a home fire sprinkler can activate even when occupants are unable to act—maximizing the time they have to get out, limiting damage to the home, and giving emergency personnel a less-dangerous scene to walk into.

In fact, the report found that in home fires where fire sprinklers were present, the death rate dropped by eighty-five percent when compared to fires without any automatic extinguishing systems (AES). Home fire sprinklers are a safety investment that actively prepares for and assists in emergency response—connecting two parts of what NFPA calls the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, a framework that helps guide all affected stakeholders though the process for identifying fire, life safety, electrical and related hazards, and creating solutions to manage such hazards. Plus, their benefits move beyond the individual home, as shown by a fire in San Jose last week, where the blaze from one home quickly spread and damaged another.

Government officials, first responders, and homeowners all stand to benefit from increased home sprinkler installations. Find a fire sprinkler coalition in your area for opportunities and information on advocating for home fire sprinklers in your neighborhood.

Each week, additional resources will be highlighted in this corner. To learn more about the case for home fire sprinklers, visit the Fire Sprinkler Initiative and Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition websites. For a deeper look into home fire sprinklers and the myths that plague them, check out the newest episode of the NFPA Podcast “Debunking Home Fire Sprinkler Myths”.

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James Monahan
James Monahan
Public Affairs Intern

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