By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
For the lack of residential fire sprinkler system five people died early this morning in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
My heart is heavy thinking about what the men and women of Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department experienced early this morning and will continue to experience for many years. Fires where people die, especially when those people are only one and three years old, are very tough on firefighters and medics and police officers.
As many of you know, I’m a retired battalion chief who served with the men and women of Chesterfield Fire and EMS for 26 years, so you can “take to the bank” what I’m about you. The people who died in this fire died because there was no residential fire sprinkler system in their house.
Without a residential fire sprinkler system, this fire quickly grew to a size and magnitude that engulfed the majority of the structure before the first firefighters even arrived on scene. Those firefighters were faced with an overwhelming situation from the very beginning.
Fire training at the Chesterfield Fire & EMS Training Facility
Chesterfield Fire and EMS is one of the best fire and EMS departments east of the Mississippi, shoot probably the entire USA. I’m confident that the men and women who serve there today are just as knowledgeable, skilled and practiced in their chosen profession as they were during my career with the department.
I’m equally sure that the department’s leadership, headed by Fire
Chief Ed Senter, continues to ensure that they have the best equipment, facilities and training that money can buy. Money that’s provided by an elected Board of Supervisors and County Administration who give all of public safety in the county (fire, law enforcement, and EMS) their highest priority not only in budgetary support, but their own individual commitment as well.
So the root cause of this awful tragedy is not the lack of a well-trained and well-equipped fire department response.
Quite frankly, it’s a wonder that all ten people in the home at the time did not die in this blaze. We’ve reached the tipping point in fire dynamics where new homes and furnishings can ignite and burn faster than ever before: the “window of escapability”–the time you and your family have to escape even after the smoke alarm has alerted you to a fire–is getting smaller all the time. See this video and prepare to have your mind “blown.”
Residential fire sprinklers need to be mandatory in all new residential housing, regardless of size, just as much as seat belts and airbags were deemed necessary in all automobiles as standard equipment, not an option. This house was very large and fairly new and I’m confident that its owner’s spent many, many additional dollars on various upgrades: carpet choices, counter-tops, cabinets, perhaps a lawn sprinkler system, etc.
But the one upgrade option that would have saved the lives of those who died shouldn’t even be an upgrade option. And because a residential sprinkler system was not installed in this home one family has suffered a catastrophic loss.
And a group of dedicated firefighters and officers will spend the rest of their lives “beating themselves up” thinking–unnecessarily–that, “I could have done more.”