It's Time to Stand Up and Be Accounted For

The most recent NFPA fire loss statistics report titled "Fire Loss in the United States During 2006" published in September 2007, stated "with home fire deaths still accounting for 2,580 fire deaths or 80% of all civilian deaths, fire safety initiatives targeted at the home remain the key to any reductions in the overall fire death toll." Similarly, the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) claims that "installing both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system reduces the risk of death in a fire home by 82 percent relative to having neither."

Eureka! We do indeed know what and where we should be focusing on, and how to reduce 80 percent of our fire fatalities and decrease our fire loss! As the saying goes, this should be just as easy as "shooting fish in a barrel" then, right? We see the target, we have the know how, and simple affordable life saving technologies, such as the smoke alarms and the residential fire sprinkler systems have been available for decades. But, while smoke alarms are now quite common in our households, and 96 percent of our homes have smoke detectors installed in them; residential fire sprinkler systems have been installed in only two percent of homes in our country.

Then the question is why? What are we waiting for? What is holding us back? Why don't we have residential fire sprinkler systems in all newly constructed homes? Really, why don't we put all our support behind installing such life saving technology in all our new houses nationwide?

Installation of the residential fire sprinkler systems in all of the new homes may not have an impact on the fire losses in the more than 100 million existing homes throughout the country. But, then it would definitely have a long-term positive impact on the more than one million new homes constructed around the country every single year. And if we don't address this problem now, these new homes of today will be where we will be fighting the fires of tomorrow, and where we will be collecting our future fire fatalities and loss statistics.

It is precisely from this angle, that we in the fire service must participate in full force and with all our might in the code development process established by the International Code Council (ICC), and take the long overdue historical measure to revise their 2009 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC), to require installation of residential fire sprinkler systems in all new homes.

Earlier this year, major national fire service leadership organizations put their full support behind the residential fire sprinkler efforts. In their resolution dated February 14, 2008, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) declared their support for requiring residential fire sprinklers in new one-two family dwellings and townhomes. The IAFC's Resolution stated:

The International Association of Fire Chiefs supports the approval of recommended modifications to the International Residential Code to require the installation of fire sprinkler systems in all new residential structures, and Members of the International Association of Fire Chiefs are hereby encouraged to attend and participate in the ICC code development hearings to cast their votes in favor of modifications to the International Residential Code to require the installation of fire sprinkler systems in all new residential structures. The International Association of Fire Chiefs hereby encourages jurisdictions to fund and support building and fire code officials to attend the ICC Final Action Hearing in Minneapolis, Minnesota in September 2008 to support residential sprinklers.

Under the proactive leadership of the U.S. Fire Administrator Greg Cade, on March 28, 2008, USFA clearly stated their stance on this issue in their "USFA Position Paper - Residential Fire Sprinklers", and officially declared that:

"It is the position of the U.S. Fire Administration that all citizens should be protected against death, injury, and property loss resulting from fire in their residence. All homes should be equipped with both smoke alarms and automatic fire sprinklers, and all families should have and practice an emergency escape plan. The USFA fully supports all efforts to reduce the tragic toll of fire losses in this nation, including the proposed change to the International Residential Code that would require automatic sprinklers in all new residential construction."

And last but not the least, in August, at their annual conference in Las Vegas, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) will also be voting on a similar resolution in support of the residential fire sprinklers. The IAFF recognizes the importance of residential fire sprinkler systems in not only protecting our communities across the land, but also our own firefighters. Remember that "Fire Sprinklers Save Firefighters' Lives Too".

It is historical indeed that by the time that we get together at the ICC Final Action Hearing, September 17-23, 2008, in Minneapolis, all of the major fire service organizations in our country will have pledged their full support behind the national movement to require residential fire sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings and townhomes.

The residential fire sprinkler requirement is on the agenda as proposal RB-64. In the ICC process, anyone can debate the merits of a proposed code change, but only the governmental members (fire and building officials) can vote. Thus, it is of utmost importance for the fire service members of the ICC to attend this Final Action Hearing. Every single vote is important, because, to pass, this recommendation will require support by a two-thirds majority of the voting governmental members present at the meeting.

To learn more about the exact dates and the details of the upcoming vote on the residential fire sprinkler proposal this September, please visit the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition website.

Just like anything else in our democratic ways in America, change will only come about through mass participation in the established process. This September, by participating in the ICC Final Action Hearing in Minneapolis, we in the fire service will have a unique opportunity to take a monumental step in addressing the root of the fire problem in our country, the home fires. To succeed, we must face the opposition with full force. It is time for the fire service to stand up and be accounted for.

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AZARANG (OZZIE) MIRKHAH P.E., CBO, EFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is the Fire Protection Engineer for the City of Las Vegas Department of Fire & Rescue. Ozzie served on the national NFPA 13 Technical Committee for Sprinkler System Discharge Design Criteria and serves on the IAFC Fire Life Safety Section Board of Directors. He was the first recipient of the IAFC's Excellence in Fire and Life Safety Award in 2007. To read Ozzie's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. Ozzie has participated in two Radio@Firehouse podcasts: Six Days, Six Fires, 19 Children and 9 Adults Killed and Fire Marshal's Corner. You can reach Ozzie by e-mail at