By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
They don’t know. And why should they?
I’ve been writing about residential fire sprinkler systems in several recent posts. Along with each post has come spirited and informative dialogue with other fire service and public safety professionals on LinkedIn (particularly within the National Fire Protection Association–NFPA–Group). After “sifting through” many of those comments, I believe there is one theme that stands out from all the rest:
The general public doesn’t know
They don’t know that residential fire sprinkler systems, unlike their commercial system “cousins” that are designed to protect property, are designed to provide for life safety by:
- Providing a larger “window of escapability,” more time for occupants to evacuate the dwelling and
- Keeping fire from reaching the point of flashover, thereby protecting firefighters.
They don’t know that typically a fire is controlled or extinguished with only one (at most two) sprinkler heads activating (Unlike scenarios portrayed in television shows and movies that show every sprinkler head “going off” because of smoke).
They don’t know that having “firefighters” in their home 24/7/365 will keep their home from becoming heavily damaged (completely destroyed) by a fire causing them and their family to be displaced while they wait months for repairs to be completed. Or they have to find a new place to live.
They don’t know that those “firefighters” will keep a lifetime of accumulated memories from being destroyed by fire, something that no insurance policy can do.
They don’t know that those “firefighters” will keep them and their family safe from the horrors of a fire-related death or serious burn injury to them or a family member or a dedicated firefighter in their community (and the trauma to that firefighter’s family).
They don’t know that those “firefighters” are their best hope in many communities where the fire department’s operational capabilities have been severely degraded because of staffing reductions due to slashed budgets or declining numbers of volunteer firefighters.
They don’t know because WE are not telling them!
We’re not telling them why residential fire sprinklers should be required in all new residential structures regardless of size.
We’re not telling them what our fire departments are truly capable of doing when fire apparatus arrives on scene with only one or two career firefighting personnel aboard. We’re not telling them that declining volunteer staffing means that effectively they have no fire department response capability during daytime hours.
We’re not “carrying the day” with effective public fire and life safety programs that provide the factual information about residential fire sprinklers. We’re allowing the builders and developers to promulgate the “half-truths” and myths. We’re allowing the entertainment industry to be “shills” for those same builders and developers by virtue of the way they portray fire sprinklers operating improperly in TV shows and movies.
We’re not holding our elected officials accountable for one of government’s primary responsibilities, protection of the general population from identified threats to public health and safety.
We’re not educating and training our firefighters and officers to be residential fire sprinkler system advocates in their communities. We’re not educating and training them about the different kinds of residential fire sprinkler systems: how they’re installed, how they work, and how to manage them upon arrival at the fire scene.
So what are you and your department going to do to change all of this?
This post is dedicated to a guy who’s had a tremendous positive influence on my career, particularly my thought
process and how change for the better is always needed in our profession. I salute Dr. Burt Clark and his continuing efforts to change our fire service culture for the better. Check out Dr. Clark’s recently published book, I Can’t Save Your Life, But I’ll Die Trying. Should be required reading for firefighters young and old.