U.S. Fire Administration Endorses Home Fire Sprinklers

Gregory Cade, the U.S. fire administrator, announced March 28 that his agency is now endoring residential fire sprinklers. USFA posted the announcement just ahead of a major fire safety forum in Washington, D.C., that is intended to devise a strategy to change America's approach to fire safety and reduce casualties and costs associated with fires. Cade's message says in part, "I would like to address members of the Fire Service, homeowners, home builders, and other interested parties about the powerful protection from fire provided by residential fire sprinkler systems and why all homes should be equipped with them."

"Commercial buildings such as schools, office buildings, and factories have benefited from fire protection sprinkler systems for over a century," Cade continues. "But what about our homes? Although we protect our businesses from fire, what actions do we take to protect our families, our homes, and our possessions from fire? Millions of Americans have installed smoke alarms in their homes in the past few years, but a smoke alarm can only alert the occupants to a fire in the house. It cannot contain or extinguish a fire. Residential fire sprinkler systems can."

In 2006, 19 percent of all reported U.S. fires occurred in one- and two-family structures, and they caused 66 percent of the nation's fire fatalities -- more than 2,100 people who died in their homes as a result of a fire. Home fires take the lives of about 25 firefighters per year, as well, Cade points out. He says fire sprinklers have been demonstrated to reduce the chance of dying in a residential fire by 69 percent. When both smoke alarms and fire sprinklers are installed in a home, the risk of dying is reduced by 82 percent versus a home lacking both.

"Much has been written about the reduction of residential fire deaths due to improvements in building codes and the installation of smoke alarms," Cade continues. "Without a doubt, these have had a substantial impact on the home fire problem. The annual number of fire deaths in residential occupancies continues to decline. The trend in fire death data, however, shows that the number of residential fire deaths is declining at a slower rate over the past 10 years than it did in the period 1977 through 1995. Full-scale fire tests in residential settings suggest one explanation for this slowing in the rate of decline in residential fire deaths. The research shows that the available time to escape a flaming fire in a home has decreased significantly from 17 minutes in 1975 to only 3 minutes in 2003. This decrease in time to escape has been attributed to the difference in fire growth rates of home furnishings. In short, a fire involving modern furnishings grows faster than a fire involving older furnishings. The practical impact of this finding is clear -- smoke alarms alone may not provide a warning in time for occupants to escape a home fire.

"We at USFA have carefully reviewed the data and the relevant research and it is our official position that all Americans should be protected against death, injury, and property loss resulting from fire in their residences. All homes should be equipped with smoke alarms and automatic fire sprinklers, and families should prepare and practice emergency escape plans. The Fire Administration fully supports all efforts to reduce the tragic toll of fire losses in this nation by advocating these actions, including the proposed changes to the International Residential Code that would require automatic sprinklers in all new residential construction."

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