Home Fire Sprinklers Overcome Many Challenges, Improving Communities for Life
In Millersville, TN recently, growing concerns about fire department emergency response times and gaps in fire hydrant spacing led to an ordinance requiring fire sprinkler installation in new construction of single-family and townhome structures. This small, suburban city’s decision will improve public safety on many levels for decades to come. It deserves to be replicated.
This latest ordinance also shines a light on just one of the fire service challenges home fire sprinklers can overcome. Emergency response can be a problem for departments of all sizes and types, rural and urban. In most communities today, fire service personnel are all-hazard public safety providers. On any given shift, they may be responding to false alarms, motor vehicle accidents, hazardous materials, and medical calls.
Regardless of how many apparatus or personnel a department has, firefighters can’t be in two places at once. And however good a department’s typical response time is, that time can be dragged out by unforeseen circumstances ― think flooding, train derailments, even apparatus crashes.
Home fires are a significant problem in every community. Three quarters of all civilian fire deaths occur there. Installed home fire sprinklers are game-changers for any fire department. In an unprotected house, flashover can occur in as little as two minutes or less. This kind of life-or-death emergency demands full-scale fire department response. And considering the damage after just two minutes, their response will include putting water on the fire with lines that spray 150-200 gallons per minute.
A house fire with sprinklers is different. The sprinkler closest to the flames responds automatically, controlling the fire and smoke or even extinguishing it – with a fraction of the water required for an unsprinklered house fire. That fast and automatic action prevents flashover from occurring and limits the amount and spread of toxic smoke. If the home is occupied, fire sprinklers provide people and their pets extra time to escape safely.
The fire department still responds to sprinklered home fires of course, but a controlled or extinguished fire can be properly managed with fewer personnel, freeing up others to address emergencies elsewhere.
Ordinances like Millersville’s are occurring slowly, but steadily, and for good reason. Scottsdale, AZ’s home fire sprinkler requirement set the bar more than three decades ago. It proved then, and continues to prove today, that fire sprinklers save lives. It’s also shown there’s really no downside to requiring sprinklers, as more than half the homes in Scottsdale are now protected with fire sprinklers.
The bottom line? Home fire sprinklers are one community risk reduction strategy that can help any fire department in any community. Sprinklered homes protect against emergency response time challenges as well as common residential challenges today, like greater density and closer proximity, lightweight new-construction material, limited rural water supply, steep grades, narrow roads and limited fire service personnel, to name a handful.
And while we’re at it, look beyond public safety to the ways home fire sprinklers help protect the environment. When sprinklers are present in a home fire, they cut greenhouse gases, reduce water usage and minimize pollution. In fact, since 2010, FM Global calculated that home fire sprinklers would have reduced gas emissions by 97 percent.
So kudos to the City of Millersville. And kudos to you if you’re working on an ordinance in your own community. Free educational resources on a range of home fire sprinkler topics are available to you on demand from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.