Fire Sprinkler Initiative


The science behind fire suppression--and a pitch for home fire sprinklers

!|border=0|src=|alt=Firemen house fire|title=Firemen house fire|class=asset asset-image at-xid-6a00d8351b9f3453ef01b7c7c4b15b970b image-full img-responsive!]]>Have you heard? The fire service has started embracing a series of scientific experiments that's producing quantifiable data to help determine how to best fight fires. This scientific approach is said to be altering fire suppression tactics used by firefighters. Fire service journals, websites, and conferences are all highlighting this fire-attack-based-on-science phenomenon. And suppression people (like me) are absorbing, debating, and applying the latest information.I support the scientific approach to studying fire dynamics and fire attack. I truly applaud the work of the good people at UL, NIST, NFPA, and other organizations for their efforts to publicize and promote their findings. I truly believe this data will improve our understanding of fire dynamics in the modern built environment and lead to changes in the way many approach fire. And, I truly believe this will lead to reduced line-of-duty firefighter injuries and deaths.However, the science really isn't all that new, and the application of the science really isn't so complex. Also, the resulting perspective towards a “revolutionary change” in fire suppression is actually a little short-sighted. Again, these statements are not meant to critique the people doing the research, or the research. They are great people who are more intelligent than me. But, let me explain my claims and challenge you to dig a little deeper.First, fire does not burn any differently now than before. It is, in fact, a science. It can be, and has been, replicated in various laboratories for decades. Its behavior can be predicted and controlled by changing certain variables affecting the combustion process, such as various aspects of the fuel load or oxygen supply. As an example, in the early 1950s, Keith Royer and Floyd Nelson published their research in the Iowa State Training Bulletin, Water for Fire Fighting. In it, they stated,  +“The Firefighter is more interested in the amount of heat that is being produced when the attack is made and the fact that the oxygen supply to a fire does more to set limits on heat production than the amount of fuel available. +Of more specific interest to the firefighter rather than the total fuel load is the rate at which heat energy is being released during the actual fire.”Sound familiar? Since its discovery, fire has been an exothermic chemical reaction emitting heat and light. I must agree that our understanding of fire behavior through scientific research has improved greatly over the decades, especially in recent years, and this research needs to continue. Also, the built environment in which fires are occurring +has changed significantly+ in recent decades,]]> which has impacted the fire dynamics we are facing today.Moreover, scientists have always been very smart people, and they now have even cooler toys than ever before. They can breakdown, verify, validate, and explain the aspects of both the combustion process and the suppression process with remarkable detail. They can now show data in the form of colored graphics, computerized models and simulations, and videos that can grab a firefighter's attention. It's important for all of us to understand that the science behind the combustion process is complex. Though not a scientist, I believe the science can be simplified and summarized when applied to the suppression process without compromising results:Fire releases heat. Water absorbs heat. All other variables being equal, the bigger the fire, the more heat released. The more heat released, the more water required to absorb the heat. When the application rate of the water exceeds the heat-release rate of the fire, the fire goes out.While I encourage all to study, learn, and understand the science of fire dynamics in the modern built environment, this basic concept sums it up.Another thought: Suppression people are scrambling to “reinvent” fire attack methods based on new research. One account I read said that science is going to “revolutionize” the way we fight fires. I must say, I find this rather humorous. Many insightful fire officers have understood and applied certain firefighting principles for decades. Their first priority on the fireground has always been to aggressively achieve a rapid knockdown with tank water, often through a window or door for 30 seconds or so. Science has not discovered this tactic, nor are scientists claiming to have done so. They are, however, now proving its effectiveness through their research.The “new science” is a big change for many, a real paradigm shift, as they like to say. I understand that we will be faced with attacking fires in non-sprinklered buildings and dwellings for decades to come, so we need to be talking about how best to do that. But, I must say we are falling short when applying scientific research to fire suppression. Science is “proving” that fire releases heat and that water absorbs heat. Yet, we only seem to be focusing on changing the fire suppression process by improving how we apply big water to big fires. We are claiming to do this in the interest of more effective, efficient, and safer firefighting techniques, which I agree is an important concept.Why aren't we also focusing on changing the fire suppression process in the future by simply applying a little water to a little fire before it gets big? Would this not be a more effective, efficient, and safer means of firefighting? Science has proven the unmatched, suppression capabilities of fire sprinklers. ]]>Why aren't we giving sprinklers as much attention as we are the other revolutionary tactics we claim to have just discovered? It is time that suppression people start viewing – no, embracing – home fire sprinklers as an improved “revolutionary” tactic for the future of firefighting.This post was written by Rick Ennis, fire chief for the City of Cape Girardeau in Missouri and chair of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition.]]>Related articles !|src=|alt=|style=padding: 0; margin: 0; border: 0; display: block; width: 80px; max-width: 100%;!]]>Mark your calendars for important fire sprinkler summit !|src=|alt=|style=padding: 0; margin: 0; border: 0; display: block; width: 80px; max-width: 100%;!]]>Latest Fire Sprinkler Initiative newsletter details home fire that forever altered a family's life

Fire Chief: Why are we not giving the fire death of a two year old in a new home the attention it deserves?

It took the Baldwinsville, New York, Fire Department only three minutes to arrive at the scene of a recent home fire. The fire had already intensified to the point that a veteran firefighter couldn't make entry. He waited for the engine company's arrival. Inside the home was two-year-old Nora Lamirande, who was napping in an upstairs bedroom while her mother and brother were outside enjoying the spring weather. The brother headed to a neighbor's home as the mother followed, only to return to see the structure in flames. Something left on the stove was the apparent catalyst, per a report on the incident. Despite a valiant effort by firefighters, Nora died--in a home built only two years ago. Why this story, which highlights all the reasons why sprinklers in new construction are necessary, hasn't gotten more attention has baffled Fire Chief Rick Ennis, chair of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition. He has shared a personal essay on the tragedy with NFPA: Today marks one week since two-year-old Nora Lamirande's funeral, who died in a fire that occurred in a new home, in a new subdivision. A fire in a home that should have had a home fire sprinkler system. A fire that would have undoubtedly had a much different outcome had a home fire sprinkler system been provided and installed by the homebuilder. Last night, I was checking online to see if there had been any updates regarding this fire. I was checking to see if any of the fire service agencies or fire service publication sites had picked up on the incident. Still nothing (again, if anyone can show me that I am missing something, please do so). I came across a story on posted May 5 that reported that a Gofundme account set up for the family had raised more than $50,000 in one day. The report cited there had been 860 donations, ranging from $5 to $1,000, with one donor writing, "no one should have to bury a child." I admire each and every person that made a donation to that account. But I find it sadly ironic and quite frustrating that we have allowed the National Association of Home Builders to convince everyone from consumers to politicians that a small fraction of that amount of money is “too much” to invest upfront to rapidly get water on a fire and keep this type of tragedy from occurring in the first place. I realize this story is no longer “news”. The fire occurred nearly two weeks ago. Nora's funeral was a week ago. Several other fire deaths, injuries, rescues and “big fires” have since made headlines. The story now is how in the world this fire seems to be passing under the fire service's radar. I did get a reply from the NFPA that assures me they are looking into the fire. I realize that will take considerable time and effort to do so with the thoroughness required. I am just glad to know it is happening. I've received some interesting and valued feedback from others. I wrote an initial response to this tragedy, where I stated "a home fire sprinkler system could have changed the outcome of this fire. We encourage all to research and learn more about this fire and ask the question: Why, in 2015, does a fire like this take a life in a newly built, single-family home?" I am not suggesting that reevaluating our perspective on fire sprinklers is the only way to improve fire suppression, firefighter safety, and service delivery, but I will not back off that it would be an improvement to all of these critical areas of the fire service. In eighteen years as a fire chief, I have consistently avoided using the emotional “burning baby” appeal to justify anything. I am reluctant to allow this incident to be used in such a manner. I cannot claim to imagine how the mother or the family feels right now, nor how they will be moving forward. My intent is simply to use the opportunity this fire offers to create dialogue, to question the status quo. My hope is that at some point in the near future, this fire gets the attention it is worthy of, within the fire service, within the courts, and within political chambers. My hope is that positive change in the future can result from Nora's death. My challenge to us all is that we all help ensure this happens. Please share Ennis' essay via social media and email and help spread the word about this tragedy.

Understanding hydraulic requirements in NFPA 13D

A common question we receive through NFPA's technical advisory services for NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, involves the hydraulic calculation of the system. Unlike NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, NFPA 13D does not require full-blown hydraulic calculations that assess friction loss of every fitting and linear foot of pipe. One of the goals of the NFPA 13D technical committee is to promote the inclusion of systems in both new construction and retrofit installations. As such, requiring a complicated and time-consuming hydraulic calculation procedure would add cost to the project and in some cases may preclude otherwise qualified designers from being engaged with the standard. NFPA 13D offers two simple approaches to these calculations. These procedures are described in both an eight-step and 12-step process that require limited mathematical computation, while still providing the assurance that there will be sufficient flow and pressure for the particular system being installed. These calculations are conservative, but are simple to execute and not time-consuming. The time savings can be seen both on the design side and on the plan review side. Reviewing the hydraulics for a 13D system for a municipal plan reviewer is a simpler endeavor than that of the NFPA 13 approach. Matt Klaus is NFPA's principal fire protection engineer and staff liaison for NFPA 13D. Klaus is a regular contributor to this blog and discusses the technical components of home fire sprinklers. 

The facts on NFPA 13D and water mist systems

"Can I use a water mist system instead of automatic sprinklers?" That was a common question posed during the development of the 2013 edition of NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. The NFPA 13D Residential Sprinkler Systems Technical Committee concluded that the answer lies somewhere other than this document. The NFPA 13D committee does not have the scope to write requirements for water mist systems; they provide design and installation criteria for automatic sprinklers in residential settings. If an applicable building code requires sprinkler system installation in accordance with NFPA 13D, it must pertain to automatic sprinkler systems. The 2013 edition of the standard does include a statement in Chapter One noting that water mist systems differ from sprinkler systems. If you are looking for guidance on water mist systems, please refer to NFPA 750, Water Mist Fire Protection Systems. However, that's not to say that water mist systems are not appropriate or should not be used in residential settings. Water mist systems are a great option for many applications, one of which may be single-family homes. In this instance, the issue is about document scope and scoping criteria, not about one suppression technology being better than another. Matt Klaus is NFPA's principal fire protection engineer and staff liaison for NFPA 13D. Klaus is a regular contributor to this blog and discusses the technical components of home fire sprinklers. 

The problems with modular homes: Built to burn? we discuss the problems with modern methods of construction, mainly lightweight/engineered wood components, we usually think about the site-built homes. In a Fire Engineering article Chief Kevin Gallagher of the Acushnet (MA) Fire & EMS Department considers the problems of modular homes, which are factory-built and then towed in sections to be installed at a permanent location, and range from “simple capes to multibox McMansions.” The chief recounts a fire in a two-story, prefabricated/modular residence in 2008 and says; “Despite our department's best efforts, the structure was a complete loss…we never had a chance to save it. Fox Boston covered the fire incident in a previous report. He tells us that research to learn about the methods of construction used by the modular industry has been the subject of several other Fire Engineering articles. He says very serious concerns were discovered; mainly:”large void spaces between levels of habitation, the use of flammable adhesives as the sole means of attaching gypsum to wood ceiling joists, and the presence of holes used to assist in lifting modular boxes onto the foundation, which can create an easy pathway for fire spread.” He adds; “Our goal has been two-fold. First, we identify the flaws with the construction methods used. Second, we fight for change through the code development process. Third, we spread the word to any and all fire service members of these hazards and the tactical changes the hazards require.” The problem was documented in a Fox Boston report. Chief Gallagher concludes; “Do we have a problem? My answer, since the moment I pulled up on a fire in a modular structure, is an emphatic YES! My sense is that those firefighters who have dealt with fires in these types of buildings would agree.” He says he will “dig deeper, share valuable information and, hopefully, provide you with an awareness and appreciation for the hazards within modular construction” in the following months. Although Chief Gallagher does not talk about fire sprinklers as a way to offset the problem in this particular issue, it should be a major consideration for home fire sprinkler advocates. For a free copy of the dangers of lightweight construction presentation visit the fire service section of this site.

Home fire sprinklers requirements in California yield no negative impact on construction

The Modesto Bee reports that home building permits were up nearly 55% in the Sacramento area of California this year compared to the same period last year. The article explains that the Sacramento results mirror a statewide increase in building permits for single family homes; proving that fire sprinkler requirements do not thwart home building. California is one of two states that adopted fire sprinkler requirements in all new one- and two-family homes, effective January 1, 2011.  Maryland also adopted the requirement statewide. In other states, opponents of home fire sprinkler requirements – which are included in all national model codes representing minimum standards to achieve a reasonable level of safety – have lobbied extensively against the requirement on the claim that adoption of fire sprinklers in new home construction will negatively impact home building. This claim is refuted by a study by the Fire Protection Research Foundation that found there is no negative impact in housing supply or cost in communities adopting the requirement, as compared to communities without the requirement. The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) website contains permit data showing an overall average increase of 26% in single family home permits in the U.S., while California has experienced a 51% increase in permits issued for the same period. In contrast, South Carolina - included among the states rejecting statewide adoption of one- and two-family home fire sprinkler requirements - has experienced a 24% increase in permits; below the national average. View home fire sprinkler legislation/adoption updates by states and local communities.
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