Fire Sprinklers for Homes: The Next Logical Step in Life Safety
by Peg Paul
Peg Paul is the communications manager for the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and a new Phoenix Society Board Member.
Fire sprinkler systems have been protecting a variety of structures for well over a century. They have only sporadically been installed in one- and two-family homes, and only for the past 25 years or so.
To the fire and life safety field that’s an unacceptable paradox considering that homes are where more than 80% of all U.S. fire deaths occur (NFPA). Nearly 90% of all fatal burn injuries in the United States are from home fires (Home Safety Council).
For these reasons, the field has long been outspoken in support of home fire sprinklers and their advocacy has led to the several hundred municipal sprinkler ordinances that are now on the books in cities and towns across the country requiring fire sprinklers in new home construction.
Members of the fire service support the installation of fire sprinklers in homes because only fire sprinklers can stop a fire and deadly smoke from spreading, allowing occupants a minimum 10 minutes to escape. That’s especially important in households with people at risk, such as the very young, older adults, and people with disabilities.
Fire sprinklers are activated by heat, so only the sprinkler closest to the fire will go off. In most residential fires, only one sprinkler activates, controlling the fire and often putting it out before the fire department arrives.
According to a 2008 home fire sprinkler cost assessment research project conducted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, residential fire sprinklers cost an average of $1.61 per sprinklered square foot to install.
A large contingent of fire and life safety advocates contributed to a sweeping reform mandate in September 2008, when the International Code Council (ICC) voted by overwhelming majority to modify its International Residential Code to require fire sprinklers in all new homes in 2011.
This historic action brought the ICC’s code in line with other leading national codes which have requirements for home fire sprinklers in new construction: the 2006 and 2009 Editions of NFPA’s Life Safety Code, Uniform Fire Code, and Building Construction and Safety Code.
While safety advocates are overjoyed with the ICC’s recent ruling, there are many who are not. Homebuilders and real estate professionals have long argued against requiring sprinklers and as a group they are frequently front and center in local sprinkler ordinance debates. They argue that the installation of fire sprinkler systems prevent them from building affordable homes. Lack of knowledge and misinformation about fire sprinklers is one of the reasons there is controversy.
With fire sprinkler systems now included in these national codes, it’s more important than ever that those involved in the code process are informed and educated.
The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) is a non-profit 501c(3) educational group whose mission is to educate the public about the life-saving benefits of fire sprinklers installed in new construction homes. HFSC has developed educational tools targeting audiences, including consumers, homebuilders, members of the fire service, water purveyors, and insurance and real estate agents. As a recipient of Fire Act Grants through the Dept. of Homeland Security, HFSC offers the materials free.
HFSC’s website www.HomeFireSprinkler.org has general information—facts, statistics, survey results—along with a range of materials that can be downloaded and reproduced. HFSC also recently introduced an interactive Website for school age children to learn about fire safety in general, smoke alarms, and fire sprinkler systems. Visit www.SprinklerSmarts.org for fun games and lessons. The site also includes downloadable tools for teachers, parents, and fire prevention educators.
This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support News, Summer Edition 2009. Burn Support News is a quarterly publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery. All Rights Reserved.
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