SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Sprinklers in the home once more...
By David Hull


January 07, 2008
Monday AM

There has been a bit of misinformation put out there on residential sprinkler systems. First, the sprinkler requirement is not for all new homes, only those where the department cannot get an engine closer than 150 feet. Don't want a sprinkler system in your new home? Build your driveway so the fire department can get an engine within 150 of your door. Done Deal!
Second, code requirements usually have one uniting cause. Either a large dollar loss occurred that the construction requirement could protect against or a life was lost where the construction requirement, if in place, could have played a major role in preventing that fire death. I say could because no one can absolutely guarantee any requirement will prevent every fire or prevent every fire death.

The sprinkler companies spend an enormous amount of time, effort and money perfecting their product, because if it fails their liability is even more enormous. The same thing can be said about the construction industry. Look at lightweight construction in use on many of the homes being built today. That roof, however, is no longer safe for the fire department to put personnel upon during a fire. They fail much faster than they used to.

I need to stop here and LOUDLY state that I am NOT questioning the integrity of any construction company or individual in this town. They are craftsmen and know what they are doing and have my respect. However, these light weight construction innovations that have helped make it faster and much more cost efficient for home builders to put a roof on a structure have made it more dangerous for firefighters. Failure is expensive, in more ways than one.

Today's homes are built much safer, but the contents also burn much hotter, faster and create more and deadlier smoke than ever. The plastics that have intertwined into our lives have replaced much of the organic materials used in the past. These materials give off more toxins than their organic counter parts, but they are also more durable, offer more variety and are cheaper. Our society likes durable variety, especially if it's cheaper.

The construction procedures in use today create a separated environment, sealed off from the outside world. In the event of a fire, this cocoon keeps both the heat and smoke inside the structure. This environment does not make it easier for occupants to escape or firefighters to enter, it makes it more dangerous. Flashover used to take 8 to 10 minutes; it takes 2 to 4 minutes now. Ever try to waking up in the middle of the night and evacuate your whole family out of a smoky, burning house in 2 to 4 minutes?

Smoke alarms and carbon Monoxide alarms have made things safer for the occupants. I also remember the same arguments being made against the laws that required their installation. Smoke detectors are not infallible. They don't put fires out and recent studies have shown that many children do not wake up to the alarm. They simply sleep right through it.

To help with this new development, a new smoke detector has been developed with a digital chip in it that records the parent's voice loudly demanding the kids to wake up and get out of the house. Did you know that detectors get old? Studies have shown that your detector should be properly disposed of and replaced every 10 years. Most sprinkler systems are good for 25-50 years. What happens to a new house 50 years down the road? It becomes as susceptible to fire as a 50 year old home is today.

Failure rate of new sprinkler heads is 1 in 16,000,000. Do they freeze? Of course they do, just like your domestic water system in your home if you don't take care of it. This is one of the biggest arguments the insurance industry has against them. People don't take care of them. People don't take care of their smoke alarms either. Is your fire escape plan formulated? Have you practiced it? Can all of you exit your house in 2 to 4 minutes?

Please remember, by the way, that all three fire departments have smoke detectors to give away and will offer installation assistance to anyone who needs it. All you have to do is call. They do work and they are the law.

The simple fact is that a combination of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and home sprinkler systems offer the best possible protection in case of a fire. You weigh the cost.

David Hull
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Retired, rehired and still trying to fight fires."

Received January 03, 2008 - Published January 07, 2008


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