This year’s Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet.” While it might not seem like it at first glance, there is symmetry with this theme and the work of fire and life safety advocates. We often think locally; but our work to protect the public and first responders is clearly global. Through code and standard development and use, educational outreach, and safety advocacy, our work is, in fact, an investment in the planet.
Without even counting the costs of attending to fire injuries and fatalities, every fire that is prevented means less smoke, polluted air and water; it means less destroyed property and fewer damaged furnishings that end up in landfills. But every unwanted fire can’t be prevented, so our work in making structures safer if fire strikes is absolutely critical.
Because three-quarters of civilian fire deaths occur in homes, much of our energy rightfully goes to these structures. And with new-home construction flourishing in most states, new one- and two-family homes present a crucial opportunity for fire sprinkler installation.
When building a new home, there is one investment that goes beyond any other. Installed home fire sprinklers protect the people who live in the home, responding firefighters, property and valuables, and the environment.
Admittedly, fire sprinklers as a green building resource is a different way to think about a life safety system. But a green home just isn’t legitimately green without fire sprinklers. A new construction home built with sustainable materials, energy efficient features and smart devices falls short of protecting our environment if it catches fire and is not protected with installed home fire sprinklers.
Unprotected homes burn fast. From building materials to the contents in them, these fires turn deadly in a heartbeat. Even recycled products and our furniture are made of synthetic products that produce toxic smoke and burn hotter and faster than natural materials. Not only can a house fire today become deadly in as little as two minutes, it produces toxins that can harm the health of responding firefighters, pollute the air and our water supply and create tons of waste.
Protecting new homes with fire sprinklers is the solution. It is the best technology to protect homes and residents, and our planet. In 2010, FM Global partnered with the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) to conduct full-scale fire tests comparing the environmental impact of sprinklered and non-sprinklered home fires. Last year, FM Global reaffirmed this groundbreaking work showing that a home fire with installed sprinklers cut greenhouse gas emissions by 97.8%. Water usage to fight the fires was reduced between 50% and 91%. Fewer persistent pollutants, such as heavy metals, were found in sprinkler wastewater versus fire hose water. The high pH level and pollutant load of wastewater from the fire fought with fire hoses is an environmental concern.
In its new Environmental Impact of Residential Fires Review, FM Global reviewed the fire losses in the United States for the period of 2009 through 2019. During this period, more than 1.8 billion pounds of greenhouse gases had been released into the environment due to fires in homes that were not protected with fire sprinklers. It was estimated that more than 9.5 billion gallons of water was used to extinguish these fires – contaminated water that in most cases is not captured or treated and is discharged into the soil or storm drains.
For decades now, fire and life safety advocates have been calling for fire sprinkler protection in homes. FM Global’s research supports this call to action and proves that a home protected with home fire sprinklers is not just a good investment to protect residents, firefighters and our belongings; it is also a good investment in our planet.
For more information and to download the report, visit the HFSC website.