A Look at America's 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.

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 my hometown of 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

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Scott Berg August 24, 2012 at 09:40 PM
I see from your signature that you are "President, National Fire Sprinkler Association". That could mean you are a subject matter expert OR it could mean that you have an inherent conflict of interest because you earn your living selling sprinklers. How can I tell the difference? Where can I get credible, third party research, not just the "friend of a friend's house burned down" claims, supporting your view? Thank you.
wiplayer August 25, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Is there data to support your position? It may seem to make common sense but I'm not sure the data will support you. One reason I say that is because the use of smoke detectors was not required 20+ years ago. Today, they are required in all new residential construction. This alonne has to positively impact the number of home fires 20+ years ago versus those today.
NFSA - National Fire Sprinkler Association August 28, 2012 at 04:36 PM
These are fair questions. For a list of organizations that support the installation of residential fire sprinklers – including most fire departments -- visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition – www.Homefiresprinkler.org. In the meantime, let me help you with some credible, third-party research: In 1992, Prince George’s County in Maryland enacted an ordinance mandating the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one and two-family structures. In 2009, the University of Maryland conducted a study to review the County’s experience with this ordinance over a 15-year period. The results: • From 1992-2007, there were 101 fire deaths and 328 civilian injuries in single-family or townhouse fires that were not protected with fire sprinkler systems. Most were equipped with smoke detectors. • In stark contrast, ZERO FIRE DEATHS occurred in sprinklered structure fires during the period studied, and there were only six civilian injuries. Property protection is another important benefit. The average loss in a structure that did not have a residential sprinkler system was $9,983 per incident, and $49,503 when there was a fatality. The average loss for a single-family/ townhouse structure protected by fire sprinklers was $4,883 -- about one-half as much. The evidence is clear and unequivocal: Fire sprinklers save lives and property. Best regards, David Vandeyar Director of Membership & Communications
Greg August 28, 2012 at 05:07 PM
So the Prince George’s County study was really about new homes vs. old homes? Did they study new homes that were not sprinkled? Since you are quoting fire costs, would you also state the system cost. I can prove that residential elevators save lives and injury cost too, but not everyone is willing to spend $50K or more for the improvement.
Jay Sykes August 28, 2012 at 06:13 PM
WI has required a smoke detector, for new construction single family, since 1992. In 2001, for new construction, WI required a smoke detector in every bedroom and at least one on every floor of a home, including the basement. These must be wired together, so that if any one unit is set-off they all sound. Last year (2011) carbon monoxide detectors were also required.


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