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 HomeFireSprinkler.org – 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.