Published on March 1, 2019.

Ecosystem Watch

The items below, taken from recent news events, represent a survey of successes and failures of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem. For more on the Ecosystem, visit

Deficiencies in Dallas: A failure of the Informed Public cog

A report published in February by Dallas-based home inspection consultant Repair Pricer shows over half of homes for sale in the Texas city have defective smoke alarms or no smoke alarms at all, a local news website reported.

The report analyzed 5,000 home inspection reports from homes for sale in Dallas, revealing 62 percent had defective or no smoke alarms. The findings of the report represent a breakdown in the Informed Public cog of the Ecosystem. Had more homeowners, or members of the public, been aware of the importance of smoke alarms, more would likely have installed and properly maintained them.

While percentage of homes without functioning smoke alarms was tied with the percentage of homes with foundation problems for the most common deficiency in homes for sale in Dallas, the former was “by far the most life-endangering,” Dallas Culture Map reported. “According to the Texas Fire Incident Reporting System, 108 civilians (not firefighters) died in Texas home fires in 2016; smoke alarms were absent in 22 percent of the fatal fires.” The news site went on to quote NFPA in saying, “Smoke alarms have become such a common feature in US homes that it is easy to take them for granted.”

Mayoral Misstep: A failure of the Government Responsibility cog

In January, the mayor of Reading, Pennsylvania, Wally Scott, floated the idea of turning fire hydrants away from the street and making sure they face buildings to allow vehicles to park in front of them.

The mayor’s consideration to do this triggered immense backlash from public safety professionals, the Reading Eagle reported. One critic said it was the “dumbest words to come out of a mayor’s mouth.” Mike Shoumslisky, a Reading firefighter and president of the local firefighter union, said the idea would make it “impossible” for firefighters to find and access hydrants. “We [would] literally have to climb over vehicles to get to a hydrant,” he said.

While the mayor defended himself by saying it was simply an idea worth considering, which was passed along to him by someone else, it still represents a breakdown in the Government Responsibility cog of the Ecosystem.

Bogus Assertion: A failure of the Government Responsibility cog

County commissioners in Worcester County, Maryland, in January voted unanimously to allow single-family homes to opt out of a home sprinkler requirement, arguing falsely that fire sprinklers thwart construction.

“I believe that [the sprinkler requirement] is hindering building in the county,” one commissioner said, according to The Dispatch. The commissioners’ collective ignorance represents a breakdown in the Government Responsibility cog of the Ecosystem.

“This is an example of unsupported reasoning being used to allow substandard homes to be built and deny new homeowners the protection home fire sprinklers afford,” Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of outreach and advocacy, wrote in response to the news. “A research report done several years ago concluded that the presence of sprinkler ordinances had no negative impact on the number of homes being built.”

Shuttered Shops: A success of the Code Compliance cog

An entire shopping mall was shut down by code officials in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, in February, after they deemed it “unsafe and uninhabited,” a local television news station reported. The building must be repaired, vacated, or demolished, a notice on the front doors read.

Numerous code violations, including not having a working fire sprinkler system, were cited at the facility, and its abrupt closure—while possibly a perceived inconvenience to shoppers—represents a success of the Code Compliance cog of the Ecosystem. “They took a difficult but necessary action,” said Robert Solomon, director of NFPA’s Building and Life Safety division.

The Hills Have Eyes: A success of the Investment in Safety cog

After California experienced, by most measures, its worst wildfire season on record, a group of utility companies and universities announced in January that they would be working together to install 40 new wildfire detection cameras in the San Francisco Bay area. Some have already been installed.

The purchasing and installation of the cameras, which can reportedly detect wildfires from 70 to 140 miles away depending on conditions, represents a success of the Investment in Safety cog of the Ecosystem. While they aren’t cheap—the cost of buying the cameras alone will surpass $100,000—they have the potential to make a difference in saving lives in California wildfires, which are burning more frequently and ferociously each year, as a result of climate change and other factors.

“These cameras will provide us with early fire detection and a level of situational awareness that is critical as we adapt to new wildfire behavior,” one public official told Wildfire Today.

Practice Makes Perfect: A success of the Informed Public cog

In January, flames tore through the Southside Christian Childcare facility in Louisville, Kentucky, and the facility’s quick-thinking employees and a well-practiced fire escape plan were credited with the safe evacuation of everyone inside the building. The incident represents a success of the Informed Public cog of the Ecosystem.

“Business, home, it doesn’t matter where … this is what we preach, other than life safety,” said Jefferson County Fire spokesman Jordan Yuodis, according to a local television news station. “It’s on the side of our apparatus, it’s on pamphlets that we pass out, it’s on banners during Fire Prevention [Week]; it is our message. The police department’s message is ‘Dont drink and drive’ [and] our message is to have a fire safety plan. Today is a good example of a fire escape plan and it saved lives.”