Means, Not the End

Without allocating additional funding, focusing on the engineering aspect of fire prevention could save lives and reduce property losses.

Then I believe that it would only make logical sense to focus more extensively on the other fire prevention parameter that we have some limited control over, and that is, engineering. Engineering provides us the opportunity to better protect both our citizens and firefighters without the need for drastic fiscal shift of resources in our departments.

Realistically, I don't believe that in the foreseeable future we would see that major paradigm shift recommended by the 1973 America Burning report for allocation of more resources to fire prevention. Considering that the Assistance to Firefighters Grants statistics prove the high demand and the scarcity of the available resources, I don't believe that nationally the allocations for fire prevention could expected to be changed.

That being said, we need to live within our current means, and yet accomplish our fire and life safety objective of reducing fire fatalities. Here is where the reliance on technology and engineering solutions could be of tremendous value in achieving our goals, without the necessity for the fiscal realignment within our departments. Simply stated, without allocating additional funding, focusing on the engineering aspect of fire prevention could save lives and reduce property losses.

I have written many articles about the great value of the fire sprinkler technology. I want to make a clear distinction though that by engineering I am not simply referring to only the fire sprinkler systems, but all available passive and active built-in fire protection technologies. I believe that fire sprinklers are not the end, but merely the means.

While fire sprinklers can't prevent fires, they can minimize the adverse consequences of failure once the fire has ignited. In the NFPA Journal September 2006 article, titled "Fire Loss in the United States During 2005" it is stated that "with home fire deaths still accounting for 3,030 fire deaths or 82% of all civilian deaths, fire safety initiatives targeted at the home remain the key to any reductions in the overall fire death toll". Focused on reducing the fire fatalities in residential occupancies, on their website, 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% relative to having neither".

We do indeed know what and where we should be focusing our efforts, and how to reduce 80% 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". 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.

Yet, while smoke alarms are now quite common in our households, and 96% 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. We must all strive to change the building codes to require residential fire sprinklers in all new homes.

I believe that based on the feasibility and availability of the current fire protection technology, automatic fire sprinkler systems present the most effective means of saving lives; both occupants, and our own firefighters. At this time, it is simply "the biggest bang for the buck".

This fire prevention month, let's make it our focus to educate our public about the life saving value of the fire sprinklers in better protecting our communities. I believe that it is also our responsibility to educate all our own firefighters that just like their PPE, and just as important. fire sprinklers protect them from the hostile fire environment in their interior operations. We must engrave this message in every single firefighter's mind: "Fire Sprinklers Save Firefighters' Lives Too".

Azarang (Ozzie) Mirkhah, Contributing Editor, is the Fire Protection Engineer (FPE) for the City of Las Vegas Department of Fire & Rescue. His responsibilities include reviewing all building fire and life safety system designs and submittals to insure compliance with the federal, state and local fire and life safety codes and standards. Mr. Mirkhah is also involved in the development of fire & life safety codes and standards for the city.