Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on May 1, 2019.

For the Barho Children

A refugee family’s unimaginable loss provides a sobering backdrop for the upcoming home fire sprinkler week—and a powerful reason to take action

A news photograph of the Barho family shows that they were all smiles when they arrived at the Halifax airport in Nova Scotia in September 2017. The family had come to Canada as refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, and since their arrival they had become a happy addition to their suburban Halifax community, according to news reports. But just as they were seemingly fulfilling their dream of a safe and happy new life, tragedy found the family again.

In February, fire ripped through the Barho home in the early morning hours, trapping and killing all seven of the family’s children, aged 14 to three months. The father suffered critical injuries after running back into the burning residence to try and save his children. The home, a relatively new construction, did not have fire sprinklers installed.

This horrific event provides yet another example of why every new home needs to be built with fire sprinklers. The tragedy also vividly refutes several key myths that persist about sprinklers. We often hear new homes don’t burn. We hear that if you have a fire, you will have time to escape. According to reports, this newer home became fully engulfed by fire in minutes.

The truth is that fires like this occur frequently in communities across the world, even though we have the technology to stop them, or at least minimize the losses. Clearly, we have more work to do to educate people on the value of home fire sprinklers and to spur them to action so that residents, first responders, and homes are better protected.

This critical mission underpins the upcoming Home Fire Sprinkler Week, taking place May 19–25. The event, a collaboration of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) and NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative, started in 2018 as a single day and has now expanded to a full week. It’s a chance for fire departments, state coalitions, and other safety organizations across North America and the world to hold a variety of events to drive home the life-saving benefits of home fire sprinklers. Many hold live side-by-side burn demonstrations, one of the most compelling ways to show the frightening consequences of fire and the quick response of sprinklers. Others will hold community events, engage in media campaigns, or host a slew of other public education activities. Twenty HFSC “Built for Life” fire departments have received stipends to support their events. A live side-by-side burn and press event will be held at NFPA in Massachusetts on May 22.

The statistics on sprinklers are clear. According to NFPA research, when sprinklers are present, flame damage is confined to the room of origin in 97 percent of fires, compared to 74 percent of fires in homes without sprinklers. Also, the civilian fire death rate is 87 percent lower in properties with sprinklers than in properties with no sprinklers.

NFPA and HFSC have developed a number of resources for communities to use during Home Fire Sprinkler Week and throughout the year to make the case for sprinklers in new homes. They can be found at, along with an interactive map of activities taking place during the week. Join others in doing something to raise awareness and add it to the map. We need as many dots on the map as possible. We then need to turn those dots into communities that are building new homes with sprinklers.

In the aftermath of the Nova Scotia fire, fire officials and media there have pointed to the value of home fire sprinklers and called for their use to prevent future tragedies. Home Fire Sprinkler Week is our chance to make sure that plea is heard, and to let sprinkler advocates know they have our support.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Top Illustration: Michael Hoeweler