The South Carolina Fire Sprinkler Coalition crafted the following call to action after a deadly series of house fires in late 2014. For readers looking to join the coalition, contact coalition chair Jonathan Jones.
During the week of Christmas, South Carolina lost a horrendous number of lives to residential fires. Eleven persons lost their lives in places that did not have the highest level of protection available, given current model code standards. Nine of these deaths occurred in one day, and five of the lives lost were under the age of 18. This heartbreaking loss of life makes the week of Christmas 2014 the deadliest week for fire fatalities in South Carolina in eight years.
Whether living in multi- or single family dwellings, occupants deserve the highest standard of protection that can be provided. This level of safety is only accomplished by an unwritten partnership between the occupants, owners, builders, and the local fire service. This partnership ensures that the occupant employs best and safe practices in operating supplemental heating devices and ensures proper maintenance and operation of smoke detection devices; the owners ensure that, where appropriate, detection and alarm devices are installed and maintained; that buildings are built to the most modern minimal code; and that local fire departments strive to educate citizens of the dangers of fire.
In existing homes, it is even more important that these components be present, since age and condition play heavily on the life safety of a home. In new construction, adherence to minimal codes is a must if we are to prevent this type of tragedy from continually striking our state.
A code requirement that is omitted in South Carolina is the installation of home fire sprinkler suppression systems in new, one- and two-family dwellings. Had the occupancies involved in the December tragedies been equipped with fire suppression systems, the lives lost could have likely been prevented.
Prices of these systems in South Carolina for new construction start at around $1 dollar per square foot. For less than $2,000 in the construction of a typical South Carolina ranch-style home, a system can be installed that could have prevented these tragedies.
NFPA research confirms that homes with fire sprinklers can significantly reduce home fire deaths by 80 percent and direct property damage by 70 percent. The device’s life-saving capability is the reason why all U.S. model building codes require fire sprinklers in all new, one- and two-family dwellings.
Smoke detectors let you know there is a problem. Fire sprinklers deal with the problem, buying you precious time to get out. Smoke detectors, alone, are not enough.
As an occupant, demand that fire suppression sprinkler systems be installed in your living spaces or exercise your right to choose a home that has fire sprinklers. As an owner, research the application of these systems to prevent horrible losses. As a builder, become educated about the installation of these systems and ensure the customer is offered the cost-effective option. As a fire department, educate the public on the operation and costs of these life saving systems.