Topic: Public Education


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.

Redesigning landscape with the right mulch in the right place

With drought on our minds in many parts of the country, mulching is something many homeowners are incorporating into landscape design with other methods to reduce water consumption.  I was looking for mulch to freshen up the yard for next year and there are so many options and colors available, making mulch shopping fun.  A great article from Mulch Masters lists some reasons to mulch:Reduce surface evaporation from the soilImprove water penetration and air movementModerate soil temperature fluctuationsProtect shallow-root plants from freeze damage and frost-heaveDiscourage weed growthImprove soil structure and nutrient availability as they decomposeOther reasons to mulch are to control soil erosion, control dust, prevent soil compaction and to create a more visually pleasing landscape design.I remembered a Firebreak blog that a good colleague previously wrote about mulches and I decided to take a look at some of the choices out there with their flammability in mind. Picture of damage to a home's front porch from the Middletown Rhode Island Fire DepartmentWhen choosing mulches close to the home, especially in wildfire prone areas, it is important to take care to make a mulch choice that will help you use less water and be Firewise. The NFPA's Wildland Fire Operations Division has developed a helpful virtual workshop on research about the ignitability of mulch.There have been some very interesting studies about types of organic mulches and their flammability including recycled rubber.  Some organic mulch types studied in a University of Arizona research project included pine needles, bark nuggets, shredded bark, grass sod, garden compost, wood chips, and wheat straw. In this study, pine needles, straw and wood chips have the greatest flame length.  In yet another study by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, The Combustibility of Landscape Mulches, all of the mulches evaluated were combustible under the test conditions of dry, hot and windy weather and more than 2½ months of outdoor exposure.  The mulches in this study that produced the top 3 flame lengths were recycled rubber, pine needles and shredded Western Red Cedar.Wildfire simulations at the IBHS Research Center demonstrate that the location of the mulch within the first 5 feet of the home that can contribute greatly to a home ignition. On the Wildfire Demonstration page of their website, IBHS states, "The mulch and vegetation in the re-entrant (interior) corner was ignited by embers, and subsequently ignited the combustible siding, resulting in rapid flame spread to the soffited eaves." The dictionary definition of a re-entrant corner is where the angle points inward. It is here where embers can easily collect and cause mulch to ignite other flammable materials, ultimately catching the home on fire.  After doing research, I decided to use a different alternative type of mulch within the first 5 feet of the home.  Some beautiful alternative mulch choices for this area include river rock (round rock), recycled glass, recycled porcelain, recycled concrete, crushed shells, gravel, paver stones and DG (degenerated granite).  The beautiful organic mulch that is located away from my home will be kept wet and thinly spread to help prevent ignition.  You can mulch with Firewise landscape design in mind.   It is the little things that we can do to embrace changes to the home and landscape surrounding the home that can help us have a Year of Living Less Dangerously From Wildfire. Image of beautiful recycled glass and rock landscaping from the Joyful Glass Landscaping website

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.

A little boy dressed up as a smoke alarm is an inspiration

Schoolchildren across the nation are not only reading their favorite books all this month during National Reading Month, they're dressing up based on the characters and themes from the stories. A little boy in San Antonio, Texas, offers inspiration for children reading stories with a fire safety theme, like The Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms, or Sparky's Birthday Surprise on the Sparky School House website. When three-year-old Noah Keck's parents asked him last year what he wanted to dress up as for Halloween he said he wanted to be a smoke alarm. His father, Chad Keck, was not surprised. “Noah has leukemia and spent a lot of time in the hospital when he was originally diagnosed and was also stuck at home and started noticing things that others might not pay attention to.” He says Noah was initially afraid of the smoke alarms, but he and his wife, Zahra, assured Noah that the alarms were there to protect him. Chad says these days, nearly everywhere they go, Noah–who is now four years old–points out the smoke alarms and asks if they have fresh batteries. Whenever they pass the neighborhood fire station, Noah loves to check on the trucks. They are either “sleeping” or out “helping” someone because of a fire. Noah's costume was made by his grandmother. “He did go trick-or-treating on our street and the reactions were overwhelming,” said Chad. “Nearly everyone wanted to take a picture of Noah and his costume. Many said it was the best costume they'd ever seen.” Chad says Noah is doing well. He's been on daily treatment for his illness since his first birthday, spending months in the hospital and since then has had almost daily clinic visits. If all goes well, his treatment will be tapered off later this year. His parents say he has been an inspiration to many other children at the clinic. He is also a little fire safety ambassador who found a creative way to spread the message about the importance of having working smoke alarms, whether for Halloween, National Reading Month, Fire Prevention Week, or any other time of the year.

Slow cookers, crockpots and (small) appliance fire safety, oh, my!

No matter where you look these days, the use of slow cookers and crockpots are on the rise. From stews to soups and even desserts, there's nothing better than applying that “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to preparing meals for families on the go. But did you know that while slow cookers are generally safe, we still need to be mindful of the dangers they pose. According to NFPA, slow cookers were involved in an estimated average of 150 reported home structure fires per year from 2007 - 2011, resulting in an average of 10 civilian injuries and $2 million in direct property damage annually. In terms of accidents, it ranks up there with other smaller household appliances you may not ever think of like your coffee maker or teapot, food warmer and hotplates, and kettles. While the chance of an accident happening while using a slow cooker or crockpot is somewhat low, our fire safety experts here at NFPA suggest some great tips to consider whenever you're using some of these smaller appliances: Inspect plugs and cords to make sure they are not frayed or broken (replace if necessary), which will help keep electrical fires at bay Keep the crockpot and slow cooker (or other small appliance) away from the edge of the counter so hands and elbows don't push it off the edge causing burns or scalds from the hot liquid and food inside Follow instructions for recipes carefully using the right amount of liquid and heat when preparing your meal to prevent overheating So the next time you find yourself using your slow cooker (and if you're like most of us here in New England these days, you're probably using it regularly to ward off the cold!) follow these simple tips above to keep yourself and your family safe. Learn more about kitchen fire safety on NFPA's Cooking Fire Safety Central webpage. Interested to learn about this and other cooking equipment fires? NFPA's Home Structure Fires by Equipment Involved in Ignition report can be found in our research/reports section of the website.
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