Fire Sprinkler Initiative

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Fire Prevention Week Is the Perfect Time to Introduce, or Increase, Home Fire Sprinkler Messages

As fire departments across the United States and Canada recognize the 100th anniversary of Fire Prevention Week™ (FPW™) this month, let’s all reflect on the accomplishments of our work educating our communities on the importance of home fire safety. We have made important gains and have much to celebrate. But in virtually every jurisdiction, we also face critical challenges as we strive to prevent injury and deaths. Case in point: while the number of home fires has decreased in recent years, when home fires occur today, they are deadlier. And despite many advances that make our cities and towns safer, a person today is more likely to die in a home fire than they were in 1980. This year’s FPW theme, “Fire won’t wait. Plan your escape™,” is intended to help address these challenges. The theme inspires us to educate about the simple but important actions residents can take to keep themselves and those around them safer from home fires. Preparation and planning are the heart of this year’s focus. It’s something we all can do. And no matter the kind, size or built-in protection, every household needs a home fire escape plan and practice using it. Because of that, Fire Prevention Week is the perfect opportunity to introduce or increase your messaging about the life-saving benefits of installed home fire sprinklers as part of your outreach. This is especially true if there are new housing starts and plans for new-home developments in your area. Today’s unsprinklered homes burn faster than ever, with residents having as little as 2 minutes to safely escape from the time the smoke alarm signals. In contrast, installed fire sprinklers are designed to allow 10 minutes for people to escape. That’s vital protection that prevents injuries and saves lives. Are you new to home fire sprinkler messaging? A good place to start is by informing your community that sprinklers are an option when building a new home —but in most communities, your audience will need to ask for them. Another good lead-in is myth busting. The most common myth has always been that all sprinklers go off at once (thanks, Hollywood). You can stop that myth by reinforcing the fact that only the sprinkler closest to the fire activates to control the fire. And that sprinkler’s fast activation provides time for a safe escape. It’s important to respond to damaging myths because they tend to get more oxygen than the facts. Also, we know from decades of experience that education really works. When the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) surveyed more than 2000 adults*, 80 percent of millennials who had learned how sprinklers actually work said they would prefer to buy a home protected with sprinklers. Understanding millennials’ reactions to sprinkler education is important information to have because they are the age group that makes up the largest share of today’s homebuyers. So, during your FPW activities, I hope you’ll remember to include home fire sprinkler messages. Especially when you have the opportunity to talk to millennials and others who plan to build new homes. HFSC has free turnkey resources that make it easy for you, whether you want to upload content to your department website, post ready-made cards to your social media accounts, or download other educational tools, such as videos, artwork, and reproducible safety sheets. Tap into these and much more at HomeFireSprinkler.org and encourage your community to explore the website themselves. Every new home should be built with a complete system of home fire safety: early warning with working smoke alarms, a well-planned and practiced escape plan, and installed home fire sprinklers. Fire won’t wait, plan your escape. *October 2020 Opinium survey of 2000 US adults
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Home Fire Sprinklers, Working Smoke Alarms, and Family Escape Plan Prove Vital in Protecting Homes and Lives in Maryland and Massachusetts Fires

For fire safety advocates, home fire protection success stories are big news for us. Home fire sprinklers are vital to protecting the people who live in the homes as well as our first responders. Recent successful saves in both Maryland and Massachusetts help illustrate this message. In July, a family in Fallston, Maryland experienced the unthinkable when a home fire broke out while an infant was in an upstairs bedroom. What could have gone so tragically wrong that day went perfectly in this case, thanks to fire sprinklers and signaling smoke alarms. The infant was saved. In fact, no injuries occurred in this fire and property damage was limited to the kitchen, where an unattended candle was determined to be the fire’s cause. The Fallston Volunteer Fire Company arrived at the scene at 10:15 a.m., discovering a fire in the kitchen with a single activated fire sprinkler. According to the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office, the homeowner had been outside the home at the time of the fire. She heard the smoke alarm, and because the activating sprinkler had controlled the candle fire, she was able to safely evacuate her infant from the second floor.  Why was this family so fortunate when every day we read the tragic news stories about other home fires? Maryland requires fire sprinklers in all new-construction homes. In a press release, State Fire Marshal Brain S. Geraci pointed out that fire sprinklers are proven to save lives, prevent injuries and protect property. The best home fire safety practice is a combination of working smoke alarms, fire sprinklers and an escape plan. This story’s happy ending proves these are a winning combination. Naturally, we celebrate each home fire sprinkler save as if it is the first. Happily, these saves are reported more frequently as more homes are being protected with fire sprinklers. Sometimes, the reports provide bittersweet real-life, side-by-side education examples. That was the case this spring, when the Hopkinton (Massachusetts) Fire Department responded to two similar home fires. Both homes were under construction and both fires were caused by the careless disposal of oily rags. Fortunately, no occupants were in either home at the time. One home was protected with fire sprinklers while the other was not.   When firefighters arrived at the sprinklered home, they found a single sprinkler had activated, confining the fire and damage to a small area in the dining room. The home had just received its certificate of occupancy and workers had been preparing for the homeowner to move in. According to Hopkinton Fire Chief William Miller, the sprinkler save was the third in that development in the past three years. Each one has involved a single sprinkler containing the fire and limiting its damage. Unfortunately, it was a very different outcome for the unsprinklered home. Upon arrival, Hopkinton firefighters found smoke and flames coming from the house, which was built in an area outside the water district and therefore had no fire hydrants. The need to bring in tankers resulted in delays in extinguishing the fire, even with mutual aid coming from multiple nearby departments. Ultimately, the house was a complete loss. The moral of these stories is that when it comes to new construction, home fire sprinklers are vital to protecting the people who live in the homes as well as our first responders. Fire sprinklers, smoke alarms and escape plans are a win-win for every community, large or small. And as the Hopkinton fire loss showed, homes built in areas without fire hydrants are a particularly strong argument for the installation of home fire sprinklers. Learn more about home fire sprinklers by visiting homefiresprinkler.org.

Virtual reality makes home fire sprinklers a local reality

It’s not always practical to conduct a live burn to showcase the true value and impact of home fire sprinklers, but as we all know, seeing is believing. At the NFPA Conference & Expo®, HFSC Communications Manager Peg Paul and I led an education session about a powerful way to conduct a side-by-side sprinkler demo that doesn’t involve actual flames: virtual reality (VR). HFSC’s new VR home fire and sprinkler activation video is changing the way we fire and life safety educators reach our audiences, especially the ones that are hard to reach. That’s because this side-by-side is truly portable; it requires no construction, no permitting and no live fire. And because the attendees at our session had such a positive reaction to the new VR resources, I wanted to share them with you. State-of-the-art virtual reality The VR video was produced using state-of-the-art cinematic technology to capture actual house fires in two identical living rooms. In one room, viewers experience the fire in real time until flashover occurs. In the other room, they see how the high heat from the fire activates the sprinkler, controlling the fire and smoke. The comparison video showing the difference with sprinklers is especially memorable. The attendees in our session agreed that one of the strongest features is that what viewers see is real. Unlike VR animation, this resource offers a realistic educational opportunity to understand what a home fire is like, and how vital fire sprinklers are to escape, survival and property protection. Intended for adults, the dramatic video is available at no cost on HFSC’s YouTube channel for anyone to view in 2D. This gives them the ability to experience the video by using a smart device to “move around” in the fire rooms. We encouraged attendees to consider using the VR video to reach and educate future homebuyers in their communities. Through digital advertising, HFSC is targeting people planning to build new homes, primarily millennials – the demographic making up the largest share of homebuyers of any generation. In a survey of homeowners, 80% of millennials who were educated about how sprinklers worked said they would prefer a to buy a home with home fire sprinklers. With a strong new-home construction market, that finding underscores the importance of widespread education in most communities. Advertising the facts about home fires and fire sprinkler technology, and the new, free virtual reality video online, is proving effective. Since the video was posted five months ago, it has been viewed more than 350,000 times with the average view time of three minutes. We invited attendees to link to HFSC’s YouTube channel, website and post the VR video on their department websites directly and I encourage you to do the same. Social media is another smart method to reach consumers. HFSC offers a variety of downloadable social media cards to simplify posts to any social account. Virtual reality in 3D To explore the value of an enhanced 3D experience, HFSC has been evaluating cost-effective 3D glasses that are used with a smart phone. With the smart phone open to the YouTube video, the user clips their phone onto the reusable glasses and experiences the VR video in dramatic 360-degrees. Our session attendees loved them! In addition to offering the glasses through fire and life safety conferences, including C&E, HFSC recently shared the glasses with 50 Built for Life Fire Departments that are using and evaluating them as part of their community risk reduction outreach. HFSC Immersive Virtual Reality Kit for fire educators The most immersive experience with this virtual home fire and flashover video is achieved by wearing VR headsets. HFSC has produced a small number of full-scale VR kits complete with 15 headsets, a presenter laptop and a self-contained rolling case.  Using the kit, the presenter can show the new VR video to a group or use the headsets with individuals. The kit can be transported and used indefinitely. HFSC is currently evaluating the effectiveness of the immersive kit in five regions throughout the country. Using funding from a 2021 FEMA FP&S grant, this evaluation is targeting varied stakeholders who play a role in determining if new-construction homes will be protected with fire sprinklers. In addition to the fire service and AHJs, these stakeholders include developers, builders, planners, building officials and other local decision-makers and water purveyors. By bringing the immersive VR experience to them, fire and life safety educators are finding it much easier to reach and educate these stakeholders. Based on 400 evaluations to date, local results are promising. More than 90% of users said it was a realistic experience and gave it high marks for the ability to “move around” in the rooms. When asked to rank the educational benefit of the experience, 85% gave it the highest rank. A few members of the fire service said the immersive experience was so realistic they could almost smell the smoke. Incentives can seal the deal Peg and I devoted a lot of our session to talking about how this new virtual educational tool can enhance local AHJ outreach to builders and developers. We shared HFSC’s developer incentive program, which provides free information and case studies on AHJs who have used it successfully to increase sprinklered new-home construction in their jurisdictions. We had an active discussion with attendees about the challenges fire departments face dealing with sprinkler myths, code update challenges and other negativity that impacts even voluntary sprinkler installations. As a result, in communities without new- construction home fire sprinkler requirements, local developer incentives are an essential strategy for AHJs to achieve protection of entire developments. Fortunately, the incentive approach is effective. Regardless of code restrictions, AHJs have the authority to offer valuable incentives (aka trade ups) and they are using this power with increasing success. Developer incentives, best negotiated at the pre-approval stage, are offered in exchange for full sprinkler protection to facilitate profitable infrastructure flexibility. By taking advantage of these, developers can utilize land better for higher revenue and reduce infrastructure and other construction costs. The upshot? A local AHJ-led developer incentive program is a mutually beneficial strategy that helps achieve Community Risk Reduction goals, protecting residents, firefighters and the entire community. See for yourself why this new virtual reality home fire and sprinkler activation video is a better side-by-side! And please, share your experiences with us so we can keep improving this resource.
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Wisconsin Firefighter/Paramedic Receives “Bringing Safety Home” Award for Longstanding Home Fire Sprinkler Advocacy

The NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) are pleased to announce they have awarded Michael Wos with the 2022 “Bringing Safety Home” Award. With this award, Wos, the executive director of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation and a fighter/paramedic with the City of Oshkosh, receives a $1,000 grant to further fire sprinkler advocacy and educational efforts throughout state. To those who know him, Wos has been a champion for the lifesaving benefits of fire sprinklers for many years. Among his advocacy work, he has included home fire sprinkler information in the Newspapers in Education program every year, reaching more than 500,000 readers, including students in 2,000 schools.  He worked with coalition partners to build a 700-square foot educational structure with installed home fire sprinklers at the Metropolitan Builders Association Home Show. Wos also has conducted live fire sprinkler demonstrations at the State Capitol and at Madison’s Brat Fest, which is attended by more than 150,000 people. Wos is currently the chair of the Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition. The Bringing Safety Home Award is great opportunity to raise awareness of home fire sprinklers for those who may not otherwise know about this life-saving technology. Each year, the award recognizes outstanding efforts by a safety advocate who diligently promotes the importance of home fire sprinklers. It honors members of the fire service and other fire sprinkler advocates in North America who use HFSC educational material, NFPA data, and Fire Sprinkler Initiative resources to educate decision-makers about the importance of home fire sprinklers. NFPA and HFSC congratulate Michael Wos on his award and for his continued commitment to making new homes safer from fire! Learn more about the benefits of home fire sprinklers and how you can become a safety advocate in your area by visiting the HFSC website.
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