NFPA's Take: The Importance of Speaking Out About Fire Sprinklers

No one knows better the lifesaving benefits of sprinklers than the fire service. The dramatic reduction in losses when sprinklers are present in buildings has been evident for decades. In fact the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has no record of a multiple fatality fire in a fully sprinklered building when the system operated.

In 2007, NFPA conducted focus groups around the country to ask the fire service what they felt was the most pressing issue that NFPA should champion in order to reduce fire deaths in this country. The answer was clear. In each group of fire service members, no matter where we were, the reply was the same - home fire sprinklers.

In response, we have launched the Fire Sprinkler Initiative: Bringing Safety Home website at www.firesprinklerinitiative.org - a new, free resource that you can use as a source of information and tools to fight for sprinklers in homes. A project of NFPA, the Fire Sprinkler Initiative is designed to provide a place for sprinkler supporters to find a variety of proven, effective ways to communicate the impact of sprinklers and give the fire service what you need to help make your voice heard.

Some features of the site include:

  • Resources for the fire service and other sprinkler advocates who want to demonstrate the need for home fire sprinklers in their community, including fact sheets, presentations, and responses to myths that are perpetuated by sprinkler opponents
  • Information to help home fire sprinkler advocates navigate the legislative process to get sprinkler requirements introduced and passed in their communities, including petition templates and draft letters to elected officials
  • Legislative news updates to keep you aware of new bills and actions across the country
  • A blog with postings from NFPA staff members to keep you up-to-date on all the news surrounding home fire sprinklers

Our original intent for the Fire Sprinkler Initiative was for it to be a proactive effort to get sprinkler requirements adopted in communities throughout the U.S. and to build on the fact that all the model codes now include a provision for sprinklers in new one- and two-family dwellings. But our focus has had to shift. After finally winning the hard-fought battle to get home fire sprinklers included in the new model codes, this proven technology is once again under attack. State legislation being introduced and debated all across the country could prevent these life-saving requirements from ever being adopted in local communities, putting the lives of Americans at risk. The threat from these legislative attacks is real and immediate.

Sprinkler opponents are working to undermine those safety provisions. In several states, sprinkler opponents are pushing bills that will prohibit local communities from adopting home fire sprinkler requirements in their jurisdictions. In other states, sprinkler opponents are even working to change the structure of statewide code adopting authorities, removing fire safety officials from this important decision-making process. Though the tactics of sprinkler opponents may differ from state to state, one thing is certain - we must do everything in our power to stop these efforts to undermine public safety and reduce input from the fire service. We must protect a community's ability to choose for itself the right model safety code.

As front-line members of the fire service community, you have first-hand knowledge of the types of tragedies that home fires bring to communities. You know that home fire sprinklers can give families precious time to get out of their home safely. We ask that you stand up with us now and fight this threat before it is too late. We need your support and involvement because your voice can speak to your community in a powerful, unique way.

We encourage you to go to www.firesprinklerinitiative.org and begin to use these resources in your outreach. It is critical that we defeat these misguided legislative attempts and focus on seeing sprinkler provisions enacted. Together we can ensure that home fire sprinkler requirements are adopted for use in new one- and two-family dwellings. Together we can fight this battle and win. Lives depend on it.

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JAMES M. SHANNON became president and chief executive officer of the National Fire Protection Association in June 2002. Prior to becoming President he served as Senior Vice President and General Counsel. Previously, he was Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was a member of the United States House of Representatives where he served on the Ways and Means Committee.

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