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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Lorraine Carli
VP, Outreach & Advocacy, Working to save lives and property through awareness, action and collaborations.

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