The serenity of Fox Island, resting quietly in the Puget Sound and minutes from Tacoma, Washington, was pierced on December 4, 2013, when a fast-moving fire ripped through the home of a prominent physician, his wife, and three children. Upon witnessing the fire that bitterly cold evening, a neighbor rushed to the scene and pulled the couple's special-needs son from the home. Flames prevented him from reentering the home to rescue the boy's twin sister. The wife and her teenaged daughter escaped safely. By the time the fire department arrived, the fire was too involved for them to make entry. Only one working smoke detector was found inside the 6,000-square-foot home.
The father, in his 50s, and the twin daughter, 10, died in the fire. "This is a situation that proves that fires can happen to anyone," Division Chief Eric Waters with Washington's Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One and member of the Washington Fire Sprinkler Coalition tells NFPA. "This was a fire that happened to the person next door. He worked at our local hospital, was well-known in the emergency and medical community. This fire had a deep impact on our whole community."
During the recent Northwest Residential Fire Sprinkler Summit, Nanette Tatom, Gig Harbor's prevention specialist, conversed with an employee from Sprinx Fire Protection, a sprinkler design and installation company. "I had heard that the [surviving] wife was rebuilding the home, and I asked if he knew if she was installing a sprinkler system," says Tatom, also a member of the Washington sprinkler coalition. "On the spot, Sprinx said that if we can make [the installation] happen, his company will do it for her."
The woman agreed to the installation, says Waters, thanks to the persuasive general contractor, Dale Dower, a nearby neighbor and retired Tacoma Fire Department lieutenant. Dower gave a convincing case for sprinkler installation and was the catalyst for moving the project forward, adds Waters.
Prior to hearing Dower's pro-sprinkler points, the homeowner was toying with the idea of sprinklering her home, but was dissuaded by her insurance company. "That was disheartening to learn," says Tatom. "They told her that sprinklers cause a lot of water damage." NFPA notes that resulting water damage from a sprinkler will be much less severe than the damage caused by water from firefighting hose lines. Fire departments use up to 10 times as much water to extinguish a home fire as fire sprinklers would use to extinguish the same fire.)
Armed with sprinkler facts, the homeowner made the decision to proceed with the sprinkler installation. Tyco Fire Protection Products worked with a supplier, HD Supply Fire Protection, to obtain the necessary components. Gig Harbor paid the permit fees, and Pierce County Fire Marshal Warner Webb expedited the permit process. The mother and her son are expected to move into their new home--built on the same location as its predecessor--by the end of the year.
"We hope to use this installation as an example of what to do at the beginning [of home construction], so we're not taking reactionary measures," says Waters. "Let's put these systems in place so nobody has to ever experience these tragedies."