Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on May 1, 2018.

One day. Fifty fires.

An ambitious May event aims to ignite nationwide action on home fire sprinklers

On May 19, smoke from at least 50 fires will rise into the air above sites across the United States.

I’m not predicting ruinous and potentially deadly fires that will occur—it’s a goal of the inaugural Home Fire Sprinkler Day, with its aim to have the fire service and other safety advocates in all 50 states host at least one sprinkler-related event on the same day.

Many states will conduct side-by-side burn demonstrations, in which two mock rooms are filled with modern furnishings—one equipped with home fire sprinklers, the other not—then lit on fire to illustrate the rapid spread of today’s fires, as well as the lifesaving capabilities of fire sprinklers. Communities will also educate their citizens about sprinklers in other ways, such as hosting fire department open houses with fire sprinkler information and displays, and spearheading media and social media campaigns. Communities in Canada will join the effort as well.

We live in an era when people are bombarded with messages delivered in myriad ways, and sometimes it takes a unique approach to break through the noise to raise awareness and spur action—which is what we’re trying to do with Home Fire Sprinkler Day. Initiated by NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, and joined by a number of other organizations, the event seeks to galvanize safety advocates and shine a light on a serious problem that needlessly plagues the country. Not only do 80 percent of fire deaths happen in homes—the place people feel safest—but these fires also seem to be resulting in higher rates of cancer in firefighters, who are subjected to more toxic smoke than in the past due to the materials that comprise modern home furnishings.

The solution is home fire sprinklers.

This simple fix decreases the risk of death during a fire by about 80 percent, according to NFPA statistics, dramatically reduces home fire injuries and property losses, and better protects firefighters from the growing threat of job-related cancer. All we need to do is get jurisdictions to adopt the latest version of a model building code that has required home fire sprinklers to be installed in all new residential homes since 2009.

And why wouldn’t jurisdictions adopt those codes? The public expects and relies on policymakers to keep safety front and center, and citizens expect that new homes permitted in their communities are built to the latest codes. Isn’t that one of the important jobs of local government?

Yes, but it’s rarely that simple. The path to wider use and acceptance of home fire sprinklers is more challenging than it should be. Special interests have derailed model building code adoption efforts, spread myths, and dissuaded homeowners who seek this level of fire safety. While education and advocacy efforts have netted results—including three states with mandatory fire sprinkler requirements, hundreds of local jurisdictions that have passed some sort of fire sprinkler regulation, and more consumers aware of the lifesaving benefits of sprinklers—we need to ignite a larger movement to make more progress and bring this effort to more communities across the country.

The alarming number of home fire deaths and injuries each year and the escalating rate of cancer among firefighters should be on the radar of every decision maker, member of the media, and citizen. Through Home Fire Sprinkler Day, we hope to illuminate these problems and their simple solutions on a broader scale. Taking action collectively will send a powerful message that fire sprinklers must be embraced in every state.

All events taking place on May 19 will be added to a map on the Fire Sprinkler Initiative website. For more information visit the Fire Sprinkler Day website.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA.