Cindy Rutter

Injured as a tot, burn survivor details immediate and lifelong realities of home fires

​ Introducing Cindy Rutter, a burn survivor and home fire sprinkler advocate now blogging for NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative. Her story is a lesson in home fires--the lives altered, injuries endured, and endless hope from those impacted that these tragedies finally come to an end: There is something horrific about home fires resulting in death or burn injury. It certainly is something that I never brush off when I hear about one, as it brings back memories. This is my story, which was featured in a 1959 newspaper article: Tot Burned In Accident Tragedy whistled a warning early yesterday and a Coolidge disc-jockey's six-year-old daughter was burned critically when it went unheeded. Cindy Ellen Holliday was brought to St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix with burns on 85 percent of her body, suffered in a water heater explosion and fire so intense it disintegrated concrete slabs in the home. Her Father, Lee Holliday, who has a music program twice daily on Radio Station KCKY, was burned on both hands tearing flaming clothing from his daughter while fire raged through their house near Coolidge. Holliday said he was awakened at 5:30 a.m. by a whistling noise. Just then Cindy appeared in his bedroom. “Daddy, she asked, “What is that whistling noise?” Holliday thought it might be coming from a nearby farm. He told the child: “I don't know. Go back to bed.” The tot passed the heater in an alcove in the hallway, and had just stepped into her bedroom when the heater blew up. All the windows in the house were shattered. Holliday scrabbled out of bed and raced for his daughter. “She was on the bed in flames,” he said. He smothered the fire and carried her from the house. His wife Loretta also fled the flames saving nothing. Holliday said he believed the heater's thermostat failed and the pressure built up. The fire had a devastating impact on me, the tot in this story. Six years old at the time, I would have little recollection of the initial trauma my small body endured. I soon learned that the flames that had also destroyed my home had ravaged my body. I sustained burns on 85 percent of my body, the majority of which were third-degree and required skin grafting. From April to October 1959, St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, was my home. Initially, I was in a pediatric isolation room, as they did not have a burn unit in Arizona in 1959. Soon after the fire, I had surgery every couple of days just to keep me alive and to try and cover my skin that had been destroyed. I was in and out of hospitals every Christmas and summer until I turned 18. The number of surgeries reached 100. I was the first burn case for Dr. Rex Peterson, my physician. Receiving a great deal of criticism for his actions, Dr. Peterson tried saving my life while others questioned whether I was a life worth saving. Needless to say, my family was grateful for his actions. However, they had their own emotional impact from my injuries. Since the fire demolished our home, they lost everything they owned. Gone forever were not only all of their worldly possessions but also any memories that they had garnished over their lifetimes. The impact of all that had happened led to my biological father leaving our family four months after the house fire. For many years, I couldn't grasp his departure. I could not understand, as a young child, why he made this decision. But the saying “when one door closes another opens” rang true. The man my mom married two years after my injury would become instrumental in helping me find a “normal life” (if there is such a thing). He and my mom were determined to make me realize that although I looked different, my life had endless possibilities. That's not to say I didn't have a difficult road ahead. I was out shopping with my grandmother one day and two ladies said to her, “Why would you bring a child that looks like that out in public?” I thought my grandmother was going to punch them. When I returned to school, I still had some dressing on my legs and my face had some large, keloid scars. Several of the kids gathered around me, called me ugly, and said I should go back to the hospital and “get fixed.” The support from my immediate family got me through those dark days. My one aunt would always say to me, “When life throws you a curve ball, what do you do?” My response? “Hit a home run.” I firmly believe I have hit a lot of home runs in my life—and plan to hit a few more. Cindy Rutter is a burn survivor who has spent most of her life advocating for the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. She spent her professional career ascending the nursing ladder, becoming a burn nurse and eventually the nurse manager of the University of California, San Diego Regional Burn Center. She's also a member of the Phoenix Society's Aftercare Committee, a joint project with the American Burn Association that aims to establish standards for aftercare in the areas of rehabilitation and reintegration for those impacted by burn trauma. Cindy will tell you the best thing in her life is being a mom and grandmother. Do you have a story about a home fire you'd like to share? Login or register to Xchange to submit your story directly to this post.

Why the furniture in your home is causing faster fires

​ Filling those comfortable, cushy sofas in your home is a material being likened to foam gasoline. A news report is shedding light on why new, synthetic furniture in many of today's homes are leading to fast-burning fires. "They're using petroleum to manufacture the [furniture's] foam," Opelika, Alabama, Fire Department Chief Byron Prather told a local ABC affiliate. "When it burns, it burns rapidly and gives off a black, soot smoke." This type of synthetic material also melts, leading to the rapid spread of harmful smoke and gases throughout the home. "The majority of people in house fires die not from flame contact itself but from toxic fumes and gases," Prather says. Research shows that older, legacy furnishings made of leather, wool, and cotton don't burn in the same manner. Studies by UL have confirmed that rooms filled with synthetic furniture that are set on fire reach dangerous temperatures quicker than similar rooms filled with legacy furnishings. In 2013, NFPA reported that fires involving these items accounted for the largest share of fire deaths of any first item ignited in U.S. homes. In the news report, the Opelika Fire Department demonstrated these concerns by setting modern furniture on fire and watching it burn. To prevent tragic outcomes from these fires, the department stressed the importance of smoke alarms in homes and escape planning. At the end of the segment, the newscasters also suggested the installation of home fire sprinklers, citing NFPA's research on sprinkler effectiveness. ​Learn about all of the hazards of the modern home by visiting NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative site.​

Fire sprinklers a key recommendation following coroner's inquest into two home fires that killed five teens

​ A coroner has recommended the increased use of home fire sprinklers following two home fires that killed seven people. One of the fires occurred in April 2012 and claimed the lives of three Ontario teens. A year later, another Ontario home fire killed two teens and their parents, according to a story by CBC News.​ Their deaths prompted an inquest by Ontario's Office of the Chief Coroner, which examined "everything from the fire alarms in the home to the training of the 911 operators who were alerted about the fires," states the story. Regarding the fire claiming the three teens, firefighters responded well within times set by established standards. A news release highlighting evidence obtained during the inquest notes that "only three minutes and 22 seconds elapsed between the time the fire stations were notified and the time the first truck arrived on scene." Once they arrived, they were subjected to high heat and heavy smoke. The possibility of a flashover was imminent. In May, the coroner's office issued 33 recommendations aimed at preventing similar tragedies. Number 27 states "to consult with stakeholders, research and promote the installation of sprinklers as a component of fire and life safety in all newly constructed residential homes with the appropriate amendment under the Ontario Building Code." "It deeply disturbs me that these three young people were taken from their loved ones in this tragic fire, despite the extraordinary efforts of all first responders on the scene that day," Fire Chief Dave Speed with the Whitby, Ontario, Fire and Emergency Services stated in a news release. "Residential sprinklers would have made all the difference in this fire. It is likely that only one sprinkler would have activated and would have controlled the fire until we arrived to extinguish it. I am pleased that the jury has recommended sprinklers in new construction be researched and promoted with a view to amending the Ontario Building Code." ​Learn how Ontario safety officials are working toward incorporating fire sprinklers into new homes by reading this blog post about Canada's first home fire sprinkler summit.
Dollar Sign

Story documents homebuilder dollars and political resources aimed at fighting requirements for home fire sprinklers

​ Take a behind-the-scenes look at how money and power are negatively impacting the safety of today's homes. Two stories recently appearing in ProPublica spotlight widespread campaigns by the homebuilding industry that successfully eliminated or prevented requirements for home fire sprinklers. According to the report, the housing industry has spent more than $517 million in the last decade on state politics and has been influential in thwarting sprinkler requirements in at least 25 states. Sprinkler opponents are also influencing state legislators while using its clout to impact code-making decisions in certain states. Consider the following tidbits, outlined in the ProPublica report “Fire Fight” and its companion piece “The Fire Sprinkler War, State by State”: There were close to 40 injury-causing fires in homes built since 2009 (when all model building codes started requiring sprinklers in these settings) in seven states that effectively blocked a sprinkler requirement. In 2014 alone, home fires resulted in more than 2,700 fire deaths (the majority of all fire deaths) and approximately 12,000 injuries in the U.S., according to NFPA, which conducts annual research on home fires. According to the ProPublica story, New Jersey builders and realtors expended close to $750,000 in lobbying in 2015. That year, a bill to sprinkler all of the state's one- and two-family homes advanced to Gov. Chris Christie's desk. He conditionally vetoed the bill, citing the sprinkler requirement would add thousands of dollars to homeowners. But the bill's author, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said the veto “was a slap in the face to a community of public safety officials who have endorsed, supported, and fought for this legislation.” A two-year-old girl from Baldwinsville, New York, was killed in a 2015 fire in a home built only two years earlier. Had this home been built to the model building code, state fire officials noted at the time, it should have been sprinklered. Also that year, the state's building code council was considering an update to its building code. The state's fire service was optimistic that the tragedy would serve as the catalyst for requiring sprinklers. Sprinkler opponents produced radio and newspaper ads on the “job-killing proposal.” Additionally, a pro-builder member was appointed to the code council directly before a vote on sprinklers, states the article. The council eventually voted against the sprinkler rule. Around the time of the vote, New York City passed legislation to require sprinklers in all of its pet stores. Political donations and heavy lobbying by sprinkler opponents in South Carolina played a part in keeping a sprinkler requirement off the books there. The local homebuilding association, according to the report, annually honors the "most builder friendly legislator" and spent lobbying dollars emailing, calling, and visiting local legislators to fight sprinkler requirements. As fire safety advocates, you have the power to combat this opposition. Use the free resources and research by the Fire Sprinkler Initiative to inform your legislators and code-making bodies that home fire sprinklers should not be negotiable in new homes. Please read both articles, and give us your feedback on these reports. What are you witnessing in your region that might be viewed as anti-sprinkler? How are you helping to counter the opposition and promote the message that sprinklers save lives? Post your comments here. Look for the link above to login or to register for free to join NFPA's Xchange.

"The cost is so insignificant:" NFPA chats with homebuilder who supports home fire sprinklers

A recent summit hosted by the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition introduced attendees to something of an anomaly--a builder who fully supports home fire sprinklers. Admitting that some of his peers and local homebuilding associations take a different stance, Randy Propst, owner of Loran Construction, has seen the realities of fire sprinkler installation in new homes. He recently spoke with NFPA about his experience with this safety feature and why he's perplexed by the opposition's anti-sprinkler stance.     NFPA: Why have you started sprinklering your new homes? I started building homes through a program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program gives specific cities a certain amount of money to do with it as they please, as long as it improves affordable housing. In Springfield, Missouri, they've created a “bank” for this money. I borrow money to build these affordable homes. In turn, I have to keep my rent within HUD's levels. Four years ago, we linked up with company Arc of the Ozarks [an organization supporting individuals with disabilities]. The company would rent a home from us for the people they serve and their caregivers. As we started working with them, we realized we're missing something here. These homes need to be universally designed, which means they can accommodate people with various limitations. Concurrently, we got on a savings, energy, and safety kick. From a safety factor, we know we needed to start including fire sprinklers. The last four or five homes have been sprinklered. We'll probably build another five or six this year, all sprinklered. Sprinklers will now be a standard part of our package. We have also tinkered with the idea of building spec homes, and if we do, they will all be sprinklered. I want the competitive advantage. [The insignificant cost of sprinklering a home] won't make or break a home sale, but tell me who else is offering this safety feature.     What have your installation costs been? When building homes, the city assigns a project manager. He picked the wrong specification to follow. We were following NFPA 13R, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies. [NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, not NFPA 13R, is suited for single-family-home installation.] The sprinklers were costing us more than they needed to. [Matt Klaus, NFPA's principal fire protection engineer and Missouri summit presenter] was a fountain of information. He gave me a clearer picture of how to install sprinklers that I didn't have before. We were putting in backflow valves and overdoing other things. I now can install sprinklers in a new home for about $1,200 or less. They'll cost me about a $1 per square foot.     Prior to these installations, what were your thoughts on home fire sprinklers?Honestly, I hadn't thought about them. I'm friends with other builders. There's one in particular who was opposed to them. Why? His only argument is that it's a conspiracy that the sprinkler manufacturers are trying to force installation just to add another layer of cost to my home. But if it's in the [model building] code, everyone has the same layer of cost. How does it put you at a competitive disadvantage? It's such an insignificant cost factor.     How do we get more builders to agree with your line of thinking?If I decide to build spec homes, what's eventually going to happen is I'm going to put sprinklers in there. I'm going to do things that make this home sellable. Builders are like anybody else. They copy. What was their recipe for success? Maybe we should follow suit if his homes are selling. Granite countertops aren't required in home, but how many people have them in there because everybody else does?     Do you have more peace of mind knowing your tenants are living in sprinklered homes?The last unit I built was [compliant with the American With Disabilities Act regulations]. Three guys in wheelchairs are living there with a caregiver. I see how quickly fire can happen. How am I going to feel if three guys in wheelchairs die in my house from a fire? Or a little kid? And all I had to do is spend a little extra. Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Fred Durso, Jr., communications manager for NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

Homeowner requests to have his new home sprinklered, builder says no

"Home fire sprinklers should be a matter of consumer choice."That's a popular argument made by sprinkler opponents, who balk at code requirements for this life-saving feature. Instead, they say they'll be glad to install the devices if a homeowner asks for them.That's not what happened in New Jersey.A news report on, partly titled "Bamboozled," describes the rigmarole homeowner Ed Ondayko went through when he told his builder, Toll Brothers, he wanted fire sprinklers. "The safety and well-being of my family means everything to me," Ondayko, who works in the fire protection industry, told "One can replace their personal possessions and valuables, but nothing can replace the loss or disfigurement of a loved one due to a fire."In an attempt to prevent these tragedies, Ondayko wanted Toll Brothers to install sprinklers in his new home in Monroe Township, New Jersey. The company wouldn't accommodate his request. A Toll Brothers representative in charge of the Monroe housing development noted in a letter that "we do not have the subcontractors and qualified personnel in place ... to grant this request and undertake a project such as this. He added, "we cannot commit to installing this particular feature in light of our current resources and expertise."A subcontractor came forward on Ondayko's behalf and let Toll Brothers know he was qualified to perform the installation. Even though the contractor was already installing fire sprinklers at a Toll Brothers apartment complex in New Jersey, the company refused the offer, according to the report. After contacting the media, Toll Brothers met with Ondayko. According to the news report, Toll Brothers offered several options, including the option to have a Toll Brothers contractor install sprinklers. They refused to let Ondayko bring in his own contractor, even if that would cut installation costs. "It's basically their guy or no guy," Ondayko told Before making a decision, he's weighing his options."The primary response from homebuilders is that fire sprinklers should be the consumer's choice and not mandated," David Kurasz, executive director of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board and member of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Coalition, told "Unfortunately, as seen in the case with Mr. Ondayko, many homebuilders simply do not want to install sprinklers as it is not a primary, money-making option like carpets, granite countertops, or crown molding.What are your thoughts on Toll Brothers' actions? Have you heard of or experienced a similar situation to Ondayko's? Let us know by commenting in the comments section below.
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