Letter to the Editor: United States on the Brink of a Fire Crisis

Fire sprinklers are the only proactive form of fire protection, yet only two states require sprinklers in new homes.

The United States is on the brink of a fire crisis. New lightweight construction methods and materials are making it harder and more dangerous for firefighters to safely extinguish blazes and for occupants to escape safely.

It’s estimated that most homes built within the past 20 years contain these dangerous lightweight materials, which are designed to carry a greater load with less material by using prefabricated components. While these lightweight construction materials are touted as being more cost-effective and environmentally friendly, they also allow fires to spread much more rapidly, significantly reducing the time occupants have to escape a fire, and the time firefighters have to safely extinguish the blaze. In Carmel, New York tragedy struck this spring when a fire claimed four lives, spreading so quickly that the entire structure fully collapsed within 10 minutes. Firefighters attributed the quick collapse to the home’s lightweight construction materials.

Materials used in today’s home furnishings are also contributing to the accelerated pace of home fires. Newer plastic fillings in sofas, chairs, and mattresses burn much faster than older fillings like cotton, reducing the time it takes for a room to heat to 1,100 degrees and reach flashover -- the temperature point at which the heat in an area is high enough to ignite all flammable materials simultaneously. The tragic 2007 Charleston, S.C. furniture warehouse fire that took the lives of nine firefighters is a strong indication of just how dangerous these materials can be in a home during a fire.

While many states have rejected the International Code Council’s requirement for all new one- and two-family homes to include fire sprinklers, the fact remains that fire sprinkler systems would offset the danger created by lightweight construction methods and today’s synthetic furnishings, providing greater protection to building occupants and emergency first-responders.

Currently, California and Maryland are the only states that require fire sprinklers in new homes. I urge you to educate yourself on the current mandate in your own city and state and learn how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from the ravages of fire.

Properly installed and maintained fire sprinklers control and typically extinguish a fire before the fire department even arrives on the scene. More importantly, the presence of fire sprinklers mitigates the risk to individuals affected by the blaze, including firefighters who battle the fire.

Fire sprinklers are the only proactive form of fire protection, providing firefighters the time they need to do their jobs effectively and as safely as possible while helping to avoid potential injuries and devastating tragedies.

How prepared would you be if fire struck where you live? Fire sprinklers save lives and property.


Russell Fleming
President, National Fire Sprinkler Association

mike ellison August 27, 2012 at 05:04 PM
This organization has been pushing for sprinklers in houses for years. Yes, sprinklers would save lives, but the cost is an outrgeous amount as compared to the total cost of the house. It's just not cost effective. This is a trade organization pushing these things, not a consumer interest group.
Carol Kreiss August 28, 2012 at 03:13 AM
I agree Mike. I can't even cook a pizza without my "hard wired" smoke detectors going off! This idea is ludicrous! Yes, I am sure in certain circumstances a sprinkler would save lives but let's get back to reality! It costs way too much money and smoke detectors have done a lot to save lives and work well!
James T Reap August 28, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Independent consumer interest groups like UL and NIST have confirmed the facts of the article. Taken together, open floor plans, engineered lumber products and greater plastic content in furnishings, etc create homes that burn hotter and collapse faster than a generation ago. ALL the model building codes have recognized this by adding the requirement for residential fire sprinklers.
Stephen Youhanaie August 28, 2012 at 09:05 PM
UNITED STATES ON THE BRINK OF A METHANE CRISIS - Did you know that most politicians develope a curious problem within 90 days of taking office? It causes methane to come out of both ends. What's worse they are unable to realize the methane coming out of their mouthes isn't supposed to be believable. What this country needs is regular political mouthwashing. One form can be term limits.
Carol Kreiss August 30, 2012 at 03:21 AM
James...I am not disputing your points sprinlers can do a good job, but did you listen to mine??? The pizza is barely turning brown with just a hint of burn/crispness and the detectors go off. The products you indicate I have no doubt burn faster and hotter. I would expect the alarm detectors based off my pizza scenario would sound that much earlier based off of my simple analysis, giving a person valuable more time that might be needed due to the flammability of today's engineered products. So current standards are good in my opinion and the sprinkler systems are unnecessary. On a two story house there are a whole bunch of egress opportunities...We just need the alarm to go off early enough and it DOES! Train your kids what to do when the alarm sounds and they can safely exit. I am sure UL and NIST love sprinklers, it keeps their labs filled with work and they help support this "tactic" that the industry wants us to believe and that is that "we need them!" when we don't!


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