Author(s): James Pauley. Published on January 1, 2020.

Sprinklers Now


The last few months of 2019 were difficult for the fire department in Worcester, Massachusetts, a city not far from NFPA headquarters. In November, a Worcester firefighter, Lt. Jason Menard, died battling a home fire. Menard’s death occurred just weeks before events to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire, a devastating event that killed six of the city’s firefighters. Two decades later, the Worcester Fire Department was again mourning a loss.

In the wake of Menard’s death, The Boston Globe ran an article where fire safety experts called for more sprinklers in residences. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran an op-ed by Kathy Spencer—whose husband, Lt. Thomas Spencer, was killed in the 1999 cold storage fire—calling for change and expressing her hope that another family would not have to cope with such a devastating loss.

Worcester has launched a task force to look at firefighter safety, and the city should be applauded for taking this step. Looking ahead, our hope is that home fire sprinklers are part of the discussion—and of every discussion of fire and life safety—on how to better protect first responders and residents. And we hope the discussions lead to action.

Those of us in fire safety know the benefits of sprinklers. For more than a decade, model building codes have included the provision for fire sprinklers in new homes for two simple reasons: the majority of fire deaths and injuries happen in homes, and today’s homes burn faster than in years past. These facts require sprinklers, as well as smoke alarms, to effectively reduce loss.

But we also know the fierce opposition we face in getting sprinklers into new homes—opponents have argued for decades against this proven, life-saving technology. Massachusetts, like many other jurisdictions around the country, has succumbed to special interests and omitted the code provision, or not acted on legislation, that would further sprinkler protection. These actions have allowed many substandard homes to be built.

None of us wants to be having the same discussion decades from now—we need to act to better protect citizens and first responders for generations to come. And the way we do that is to protect every new home built in the United States by including fire sprinklers.