Keith Youse has heard all of the reasons from sprinkler opponents on why these systems aren't necessary in homes. And he believed them. Nestled in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, the getaway home he and his wife moved into in 2007 had "adequate" fireproofing material and a hardwired alarm system that, he says, would keep them safe from a fire.
Then, one bitterly cold morning in January, he was awakened by one of his houseguests, who smelled smoke. Youse could hear what appeared to be movement in his attic, which was undergoing renovation. Heading upstairs, he noticed more smoke. "Call 911, and get everyone out of the house!" he shouted to his wife and three guests. What Youse had heard was the crackling of fire.
The group hurried into a warm car while waiting 10 minutes for the fire department's arrival. In the meantime, "I could see a glow. I could see inside one of the attic windows that [the fire] went from a smoky glow to an actual flame," Youse tells NFPA. "I could see flames in the upper portion of the window."
Youse's adrenaline kept him warm in the minus 7 degree weather, as did seeing the aftermath of the incident. The fire department contained the fire damage to the attic, but the water ruined the ceiling of the floor below and some of the structure's insulation. Investigators attributed the cause to a light used by the contractors that was on at the time of the fire. The damages amounted to about $255,000.
The incident has turned Youse into a sprinkler advocate. His home is now sprinkler protected. "I would be a fool not to [include sprinklers in my home]," he says. "I'm going to retire up there. My family will be up there, the home will be passed to my grandchildren. I want it as safe as I can make if for them. We're doing everything now that, in hindsight, we should have done before."
Youse's advice for potential homeowners in the market for new one- or two-family homes is to make sure sprinklers are installed. "Sprinklers were a hard sell for me, but not anymore," he says. "People need to realize how important they are."