Clarifying a point on mandatory prohibitions on home sprinklers

To the editor:

I just read Lorraine Carli’s column titled “Falling Short” (“Outreach,” May/June), and I take issue with her blatant misrepresentation of facts.

Permit me to quote from that column: “States throughout the country have repeatedly prohibited sprinkler installation, despite model code requirements.”

This is an outright lie! There is no prohibition to the installation of sprinklers by any level of government. There are some states that prohibit local jurisdictions from mandating the installation of sprinklers, but that’s a far cry from prohibiting them.

This letter is not a discussion of the merits of sprinklers. It is a complaint about the article’s whiny, preachy, reproachful tone, factual inaccuracy, and the manipulation of a tragic incident to push a particular agenda, which I find irritating and totally unsuitable for a professional journal.

Furthermore, a model code is only that—a model code. It is possibly helpful to governmental agencies and authorities having jurisdiction seeking to develop certain rules for their constituencies, but nothing more. It is not a biblical, moral, ethical, or cultural mandate, it is not a law of any kind unless it is adopted by the government, and there is no irresistible reason for that to occur. The tone of the column seems to respectfully imbue the “model code” with a higher authority. That’s just not right.

I am not opposed to sprinklers. In fact, after having dedicated nearly 40 years to product safety as an electrical engineer, including a stint on the NEC CMP–10 in 1987, I am in favor of them. What bothers me is that there seem to be no limits that NFPA won’t cross to push this particular initiative. Carli’s column is a prime example.

There is no doubt that sprinklers save lives. There is also no doubt that sprinklers cost money. How to allocate limited resources is society’s choice, not NFPA’s. NFPA should provide evidence-based expert advice, make recommendations, and let society decide how it wants to proceed, period. To go further is to run the danger of trying to impose its own world view on our democratic society. I don’t need to tell you that many of us won’t sit still for that.

Kissimmee, Florida

Lorraine Carli, v.p. of outreach and advocacy for NFPA, responds:

Thank you for your response to my column and for pointing out an inaccuracy. The line that reads, “States throughout the country have repeatedly prohibited sprinkler installation, despite model code requirements,” should have said, “…repeatedly prohibited mandatory sprinkler installation…”.

NFPA is not only a standards developing organization, facilitating the development of model codes and standards in an open consensus process, but also a staunch advocate for advancing fire and life safety throughout the world. We advocate for the adoption of up-to-date codes, as well as other safety practices and technology that may be unrelated to codes or standards.

We strongly agree with you that sprinklers save lives. We disagree on how to increase their use. The majority of fire deaths is occurring in homes. If you have a reported fire in your home, the risk of dying decreases by about 80 percent when sprinklers are present. NFPA believes one of the best ways to significantly reduce the fire problem is by requiring fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes and will continue to lead efforts toward that goal. Leaving it to special interests who are spending millions of dollars to circumvent the code adoption process puts the public and first responders at unnecessary risk of harm from fire in today’s homes.

The value of repurposing NFPA Journal for first responders

To the editor:

I read with interest Ken Willette’s “First Responder” column in a recent issue (“Fire Service Connection,” November/December 2016). NFPA’s first responder segment and initiatives are indeed timely; yet Willette’s opinion piece recognizes a somewhat “confused” (quoting the author) understanding and appreciation of NFPA and its seminal leadership role supporting the fire and emergency services. According to Willette, this was the response of many first responders to NFPA’s inquiries about the role the organization plays in their work. I offer an additional way to ameliorate this confusion.

For many years I have repurposed my issues of NFPA Journal and other professional magazines. I hand deliver them to my local fire and EMS/EMT stations in Fairfax County, Virginia, where we live. I am always greeted with a smile and a “thank you!” when I drop them off. I do the same with Fire Protection Engineering, published by the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and Professional Safety, a publication of the American Society of Safety Engineers.

I believe if many more NFPA members did the same, we’d make progress in better informing fire and emergency services personnel of the benefits, shared values, and collaboration between “them and us” as we strive for fire safety and the public good. With this in mind, we need not ever dispose of issues of our professional magazines.

Quoting Willette from his NFPA Journal column: “We must reinforce to firefighters the importance of their engagement with our standards development process and demonstrate the pivotal role they play in ensuring the safety of all firefighters [and emergency services personnel].” What better way than by sharing among multiple other readers the monthly news and features in the highly valued and informative NFPA Journal, among other professional magazines?

Professor emeritus, Dept. of Fire Protection Engineering,
A. J. Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland