Two recent Illinois house fires, which occurred in the same town during the same week, had starkly different outcomes. The fires occurred in Park Ridge, an affluent community of 40,000 residents in a compact, eight-square-mile area that is the childhood home of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The morning of February 21, two fire sprinklers activated and rapidly extinguished a fire in a single-family home. Fire Marshal Kevin Plach reported that the sprinklers, designed in accordance with NFPA 13D, Installation of Fire Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, did its job of not only preventing flashover but also extinguishing the fire. In fact, the homeowner did not call Plach’s fire department until days later when his insurance company prodded him to get a fire report. This situation might become more common as fire sprinklers work their way into new homes. In this situation, the fire was extinguished and the valves shut down by the resident. Plach ensured the homeowner that the sprinklers were operational again after replacing two sprinkler heads.
Whether or not a sprinkler system is accurately placed back into operation is a concern following a successful fire sprinkler activation without fire department notification. The assurance of operable fire sprinklers following a fire needs to be another public education objective for fire departments. If the homeowner had reviewed the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s “Living with Sprinklers” materials, he would have known to call the fire department immediately. That’s why it’s important to educate homeowners on living in a sprinkler-protected home.
Most of the new homes in Park Ridge are teardown/rebuilds, and all of them built since 2001 have sprinklers. More than 1,000 homes and townhomes in the community now have this life-safety feature. The teardown-and-rebuild process is producing roughly 60 new homes a year.
Six days after the aforementioned sprinkler activation, firefighters responded to a call of smoke odor and found a fire that had a huge head start on them. According to Fire Chief Jeff Sorensen, there were no fire sprinklers in the home and it sustained more than $150,000 in damage. Moreover, it tied up crews from eight different fire departments for several hours.
The two house fires in Park Ridge were in complete contrast to each other. The sprinklered home freed up firefighters for other emergency or EMS calls. Conversely, the unprotected home required the workforce of eight fire departments. These two outcomes show the realities in both sprinklered and unsprinklered structures.
This post was written by Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting legislation, raising public awareness, and educating code officials and government policymakers on home fire sprinklers. Lia regularly offers his perspective on sprinkler activities taking place in his state and elsewhere.