Posted by Squirt, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Nov 19, 2009 at 9:12 pm
Ha-ha-ha! After all these years, there's finally this vague opportunity to claim that in-home sprinklers helped a minor fire. Never mind that electrical fires should NOT be dowsed with water. Never mind that most of the actual damage was caused by the sprinklers themselves. In all liklihood, the "fire" would have sputtered to nothing and been self-limiting had the sprinklers not been there. But that's not what the sprinkler manufacturers and the fire department want you to believe.
How hilarious that the over-abundance of idle manpower and equipment arrived on the scene only to find there was nothing to do. Is it really possible that 6 fire trucks, 22 firefighters and 2 batallion chiefs were necessary for one sizzling computer? Your tax dollars at work! $27,000 estimated for a fried computer and miscellaneour papers? Wow! Government workers in charge!
Don't hold your breath until the next epidsode! :-)
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 20, 2009 at 7:06 am
Fact - many home fires start as electrical fires
Fact - an electrical fire which is not contained will spread to the rest of the structure
Fact - Just last month a a 3,500-square-foot, single-story home unsprinkled home in Atherton was 60 percent and the remaining 40 percent was damaged with heat and smoke by a fire which was probably caused by an electrical device.
Which would you rather have - one wet room or home which is rendered unusable for at least a year?
Posted by Menlo Resident, a resident of the Menlo Park: Sharon Heights neighborhood, on Nov 20, 2009 at 10:07 am
This is addressing a comment from Squirt. There is a sayinging in the
the Public Safety circles:" It is better to have and not need, than
to need and not have" ! Suppose it was squirts house, I would suspect he would want and all out response and besides, squirt does not know is what the home owner told the Fire Dispatcher ! Did he tell them my computer is on fire no worries or did they say, my house is on fire, give me everything you got !! What would his comment be on the Susan Gale fire, I smell smoke, no worries !! Dude, learn what the response protolcalls are before you become critical..If you think this is over kill, then call someone else, if your house catches on fire !! Try the Water Dept or Parks & Rec...
Posted by Satire, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Nov 20, 2009 at 5:43 pm
Red Strobe Light Law
To help fire responders protect your property, you will now be COMPELLED to install a red strobe light on your mailbox. This light will help emergency services find your house in the event of a fire emergency.
You only need to install this light if you remodel or rebuild, but everyone is encouraged to do so.
The strobe light comes at some expense: underground electrical, redundant power supply, and light emitted at a specified intensity. The light must be able to stay on for 1 hour without external power.
PG&E will need to review your electrical connection to make certain that they have sufficient capacity in your neighborhood to support your strobe light. (Fees for such a review are less than $1,000; lead time about 3 months.) If PG&E needs to add capacity to their system because of your strobe light, you will need to cover the expansion costs.
And, of course, please overlook that your building plans must also include designs for the strobe system which detail how it conforms to building code. Such plans must be approved by the Fire Department. Plan approval is only backlogged by about 1 months. The Fire Department can not review the plans until PG&E approves them.
There will be no occupancy permit signed off until the system is installed and inspected by your local Fire Department official. They are only backlogged by about 1 week.
On the up side, you will probably see a reduction on your insurance, because the fire department will now be able to find your house more easily.
The payback period is on the order of a decade, unlike your home sprinkler system which requires about 30 years (assuming the PVC doesn't rupture before then).
Posted by Satire, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Nov 20, 2009 at 7:10 pm
Folly: The Government has exceeded its role as protector of innocents and provider of a safety net in the case of residential sprinkler systems.
The satire (sarcasm) has to do with the ridiculous idea of installing a strobe light on every mailbox. Though it would serve a public safety purpose, the idea is preposterous and it would never be implemented.
It does highlight some analogies in the sprinkler law:
The FD is a bureaucracy which injects itself into the building plan approval process. Though funded by plan fees, it takes weeks (if not months) to get through the system.
There are design standards which must be met -- the size of the water line from the main in the case of sprinklers. That's an increased monthly fee from the utility.
The water public utility also inserts itself into the planning process, was water capacity is an issue. (The parody invokes PG&E as the utility.) They can demand the builder pay for increase the size of the main to the neighborhood.
Finally, I highlight the idea of PVC (commonly used to carry the pressurized water within the house) being able to endure the decades of service expected from residential construction.
I hope this helps you. I think I assumed too much.
Since you baited me, here's my assertion: There is no payback. Though there is increased safety, it should not be Government's role to make everyone live in a padded eggshell. It's an unreasonable intrusion which serves to frustrate those who wish to improve their real-estate investments.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 20, 2009 at 7:33 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
I assume that Satire is also opposed to seat belt laws, air bag laws, certification of airplanes, prior approval of pharmaceuticals, electrical wiring codes, licensure of medical doctors, and requiring that infant sleep wear be fire resistant.
In a society we make informed decisions about avoiding unreasonable risks. A home owner has a responsibility not only to themselves but also to their family, including children who are too young to make independent and informed choices, and to any visitors to their home and to any firefighters who might be called upon to respond to a fire in their homes - all of whom would benefit from the installation of fire sprinklers.
Posted by Satire, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Nov 21, 2009 at 7:39 am
Everything on your list is a trivial incremental expense or a great cost distributed more equitably across society. And, none of them require ongoing maintenance.
The objective measurement for risk mitigation appears to be cost per life saved. I admit to not having done a rigorous study, but on the face of it, the percentage cost of airbags appears car appears to be in the same range as sprinklers to a modestly priced home (assume $25,000 car and $850,000 house or remodel).
The difference between airbags and sprinklers is the likelihood of the safety device actually being used. Again, no empirical evidence to back this up, but I would be willing to bet the airbag is more likely to be used in the life of a vehicle than would be sprinklers in the life of a house.
The cost per life saved doesn't add up. That's the essence of this unreasonable intrusion. The Government has asked a small subset of society to bear the expense of a system which has a low chance of mitigating risk.
Frankly, the strobe light might be a more sensible solution.
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Nov 21, 2009 at 3:43 pm
What a fascinating debate. Apparently Mr. Carpenter believes the necessity to regulate sprinklers in private residences equates to the need for, and the powers of, the Federal Aviation Authority, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Medical Board of the State of California.
I wonder if perhaps “Satire” is just fed up to the teeth with trumped up little government officials who have concluded that as the result of election to a very minor governmental agency, they now get to tell the rest of us how we should conduct our lives and what’s good for us all.
It’s quite ironic when you think about it, that so many of these Quislings who decry the involvement of the Federal Government in our lives, are so very willing to impose their views when their little fiefdoms are the one trying to legislate what’s good for the rest of us.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 21, 2009 at 4:09 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Why are residential sprinklers so widely required - because a lot of well informed elected officials realize that they save lives and protect property. Residential sprinklers codes are no different than having building codes which require extra strength and cost to resist earthquake damage and electrical codes which require properly installed and more costly wiring to prevent fires.
Perhaps Interested has something to add regarding the factual pros and cons of residential sprinklers?
This is an excellent forum for debating the facts but not a very good place for polemics.
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Nov 21, 2009 at 5:51 pm
How telling that Mr. Carpenter considers my post to be polemic. It is exactly that kind of attitude that frustrates so many people. The intrusion of the little people that run local, state and federal government in our lives has becomes excessive. Unfortunately a little man with a lot of power always justifies his existence without regard to those he seeks to control.
Posted by Satire, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Nov 22, 2009 at 7:50 am
System requires periodic inspection, including checking the PSI level and an inspector’s drain test. This is to be done by the home owner (good luck) or by a licensed inspector. Result: added recurring expense.
Homeowners with sprinkler systems must maintain a larger connection to the water supply. Result: added recurring expense.
The current building code requires hard-wired smoke detectors which signal all other detectors in the home to activate. In my home, there are fire alarms with strobes too. Result: the sprinkler system provides another layer of protection which is less likely to be the primary life saver.
Even if the cost of the sprinklers was 1% of the home price, the permitting, planning, and approval process adds time to the project which can easily double or triple the expense if the homeowner is not able to occupy the residence. Any change to the plans requires not only the building department's approval, but also the Fire Department's to ensure system compliance. Result: hidden cost of sprinkler system is significant.
The system relies on a bell to notify your neighbors the water is flowing. To do it right, you need to connect the water flow sensor to your residential alarm system to shorten the time the water is seeping into your home. Result: added expense of an alarm system and monitoring.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 22, 2009 at 9:05 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
IF you share Satire's philosophy then -
1 - don't buy a car which has had to meet a number of safety standards and tests, which must be registered with the State, for which you must buy insurance, in which you must use your safety belt and cannot use your hand held cell phone, and must pay to maintain.
2 - don't build a home which must comply with the building code, which must pass inspection before you receive an occupancy permit, which you will need to insure, on which you will need to pay property taxes and which you will need to maintain.
Posted by ho hum, a resident of the Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 6:49 pm
Let's do some rough back of the envelope math. According to the USFA, there were 1446 residential fire fatalities across the entire country. So:
1446 US res fatalities / 304M US population * 31000 Menlo Park population = anticipated .15 fatalities/yr in MP. Or 1 anticipated res fire fatality every 6.67 years in Menlo Park assuming MP is average and last year was representative (the former at least is dubious, MP is probably much better than average).
Now, cost. 12,400 households * average install cost of $5000 = $62 million to retrofit every house (probably way more). Ammortize over 30 years and call it $2M/yr of cost * 6.67 yrs/life = about $13M/life saved.
So, the question is, are we as a society willing to spend $13M to save a life?
Well, let's compare to the cost of installing seat belts on school buses.
Here, ammortize the $800M to install seat belts in school buses over 10 years with 10 lifes saved every year, works out to be about $8M/very young life saved and yet most places seem to have reached the decision that it is just too expensive to save that life.
One thing that is clear, is that is would be a huge boon to the contractors who would install the systems.
Is it not inconceivable that a few of the most ardent supporters of fire suppression systems stand to benefit from them their installation. Gosh, I cannot imagine it.
Posted by one more thing, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Nov 24, 2009 at 6:57 pm
Let me add that $13M/ life saved from sprinklers assumes that they are 100% effective, which seems unlikely. Also, since the cost is likely to be much higher than my back of the envelope ballpark figure, we could be talking about $20-30M / life saved, if not more.
Presumably somewhere there is a limit. The fact is that with that kind of money, I believe that one could probably find more cost effective ways to save lives. Maybe start with overpasses at train crossings or better emergency medical response, etc.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 9:26 am Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
It is very useful in this discussion to get the facts right.
The current residential fire sprinkler ordinance being considered by Menlo Park would only require sprinklers in NEW residential construction, a small percentage of the home in MP and much less expensive than retrofitting existing structures, and in NEW basements, which are a serious fire trap, but not in renovations or existing homes.
So the cost per life saved would be a small fraction of the inflated $13 m figure.
And yes, residential sprinklers are 100% effective - there has never been a death from fire in a residential structure with fire sprinklers.
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Nov 25, 2009 at 10:45 am
Mr. Carpenter...I don't think you get it. Is it just possible that people are fed up with government regulation and intrusion.
Lets assume for a minute that your insistence that residential sprinklers are an absolute necessity. Then why is the MPFPD not speaking out AGAINST the proposed Menlo Park Ordinance.
If you and your fellow directors are so convinced of the need for residential sprinklers then why not for all residences.Is it your contention that its ok for the owners of older residences to burn. It sounds like a silly argument, but its your argument. Or is it just possible that once this ordinance is passed the MPFPD will then claim if its necessary for new construction, it should be required for all residences. I guarantee it will happen. It is the way all government agencies work.
It is telling that you did not address the question of cost ratio...Well of course you would not because there is no rational response. A homeowner should have the power to decide for themselves whether or not they chose to expend the money required for this kind of protection.
The FACT is that the average American is more likely to die from an attack in their own home than they are from a fire. Should we therefor require that some form of alarm be placed in all residential properties?
The average American is more likely to suffer a sewer backup than a fire...Anyone out there want the local sewer authority to require (at the homeowners expense) that property owners expend thousands of dollars to prevent such a possibility...No, I did not think so.
Mr. Carpenter, with all due respect, what you do not understand is that we are sick to death of government trying to impose its will on the people. The days of just ignoring the creeping costs of the decisions (especially by local)government ARE LONG GONE.
The problem is that local government has not heard the message, WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. We do not serve you, you serve us.......and if serving us offends you...DON'T RUN FOR PUBLIC OFFICE.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 11:03 am Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
The proposed Menlo Park ordinance is a short term compromise dictated by the perceived impact on requiring sprinklers in remodels. This is MP elected officials responding to pressure from some of its citizens. It is not up to the Fire District to override the Menlo Park Council - we are pushing for as much coverage as is politically feasible.
Note that remodels require sprinklers in East Palo Alto And Atherton so this obviously not a cost issue. If the residents of East Palo Alto can afford fire sprinklers then the residents of Menlo Park certainly can afford them. Perhaps the difference is that both East Palo Alto and Atherton have had residential fire deaths in unsprinkled homes. I hope that it doesn't take the same to get a good fire sprinkler ordinance in Menlo Park.
As for my public service - I have done it in one form or another for over 25 years and it has always been to serve the public. The pleasure of that service has been its own reward and it has not been without very heavy personal costs.
I recommend that those who feel strongly about the proper role of government come out from the cloak of anonymity and serve on a commission or run for office. It is both much more difficult and much more rewarding than you might think.
In a democracy we get exactly the kind of government that we deserve.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 11:42 am Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Again more facts are in order.
Cost is an issue - it is a critical portion of the cost benefit ratio. Almost every jurisdiction that has carefully examined this issue has decided that the benefits outweigh the costs and has opted for requiring residential fire sprinklers. These are decisions made by elected officials who are responsible for and accountable to the citizen whom they serve. And one of their responsibilities is preventing unnecessary deaths.
The #1 cause of accidental deaths for people 75 and older is 'smoke, fire and flames'.
Fiddle while Rome burns if you wish, but that is not my choice or the choice of the citizens who overwhelmingly elected me to two terms as a Fire Board Director knowing full well my position on residential fire sprinklers.
If you, as a concerned citizen, feel differently then run for office on an anti-sprinkler platform and see how many votes you get. Or even show up at a public meeting, sorry but anonymity there is not permitted, and express your opposition to fire sprinklers - hopefully with facts rather than simply emotional statements.
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Nov 25, 2009 at 12:36 pm
Hey good one Pete.
"so this obviously not a cost issue"
"Cost is an issue"......
I wont ask you to make your mind up whether or not sprinklers are a cost issue because obviously you are incapable of coming to a conclusion.
You might want to go back and read my posts.I realize that your statements about attacks on persons in their homes is nothing more than an attempt to distract from my point. In case you missed it Pete, I will repeat it for you.
More people are killed in their homes by attack than by fire...Got it Pete..Do you need me to repeat it for you?...Now go back and read my posts about whether or not the government should require homeowners to spend their money in an attempt to prevent home attack deaths.Got it Pete..Go slow, you'll get it eventually.
Oh and Pete, for what its worth your two terms don't come close to my 20 years of public service.....of course the difference between you and me is I feel no need to remind anybody of my service....
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 1:06 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Interested's post stated 'More people are killed in their homes by attack than by fire' - that statement is factually incorrect.
Fire and flames are the 4th largest cause of accidental death; 'atacks in home'is not even a listed category for cause of death - accidental or otherwise. Perhaps Interested has a source for his/her claim re deaths from attack in home.
Interested claims his/her 20 years of public service exceeds my 25 years of public service - I guess he is using the same arithmetic here as he/she does in his/her non-fact based emotional arguments. And as an anoymous and unregistered poster he/she could claim anything he/she wanted - we would never know the truth.
Can we now get back to the subject of the discussion -
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 2:00 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Let's recap the facts:
Fact - many home fires start as electrical fires
Fact - an electrical fire which is not contained will spread to the rest of the structure
Fact - Just last month a a 3,500-square-foot, single-story home unsprinkled home in Atherton was 60 percent and the remaining 40 percent was damaged with heat and smoke by a fire which was probably caused by an electrical device.
Which would you rather have - one wet room or home which is rendered unusable for at least a year?
Fact - residential sprinklers are activated by high temperatures, NOT by smoke.
Fact - the activation temperature of residential sprinklers is between 155-200 degrees F depending on the type of room in which the sprinkler is located
Fact - the sprinkler(s) activated in this room because the ceiling temperatures were hot enough to cause combustion of other materials in the room
Fact - If the sprinkler(s) had not activated then this entire room and any adjacent rooms would have become engulfed in flames
Fact - a full response to any residential fire alarm is the only prudent and proper response in order to save lives and protect property
Fact - this home was immediately occuppiable after this fire
Fact - the loss in the unsprinkled Atherton home was more than 60 times what it would have cost to retrofit that home with sprinklers
Fact - the Atherton home was no longer occupiable and it will take at least a year to rebuild, and when it is rebuilt it will have to have fire sprinklers.
Fact - East Palo Alto, Atherton, Redwood City, Los Altos, Portola Valley and Woodside all require sprinklers in new residential construction and in any significant remodel
Fact - Menlo Park does NOT require residential sprinklers in any home including new construction
Fact - Residential fire sprinklers - less expensive than floor coverings or HVAC or landscaping - all of which require
maintenance and or periodic replacement and none of which save lives
Fact - The decision to require residential fire sprinklers is made by the elected representatives of all the people - an Interesting concept called democracy. Well informed elected officials in almost every Bay area jurisdiction have come to this very logical and life saving decision.
Fact - In 2011 the National Building Code will mandate residential fire sprinklers in ALL new residential construction.
Fact - Deaths from "Fires and Flames' is the 4th leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. after motor vehicles, falls and poisoning (primarily drug overdose).
Fact - The #1 cause of accidental deaths for people 75 and older is 'smoke, fire and flames'.
Posted by $13M per life saved, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 4:16 pm
My back of the envelope number assumed an install cost of $5000 per household. I don't know the cost in new installations, but factoring in all expenses of permitting, etc, I suspect that my number if probably not out of the realm even here. But let's just say it really is only half that at $2500, then let's also be realistic about what Menlo Park's residential fire safety record is likely to be. The USFA statistics show that the country average is 13.2 deaths annually per million residents, but in California that number is 8.2 deaths per million residents. It is not unreasonable to expect that Menlo Park that number is more like 1 or 2 deaths per million, so my $13 million per life saved could well easily be more like $20 or $30 million per life saved.
If anybody is inflating the numbers, it is Mr. Carpenter, not me.
I'll also stand by my assertion that we as a society can figure out how to save more lives for much less money. Also, the number of years of lives saved would probably be huge since fires disproportionately strike older residents. Don't get me wrong, it's sad when an 80 year old dies, just not as sad as when a 10 year old dies.
The sprinkler contractors (er, proponents) have no problems saying that we should be willing to spend any amount to save a life since even one is too much. Funny that money just happens to go into their own pockets.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 4:23 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Anonymous poster states 'my assertion that we as a society can figure out how to save more lives for much less money."
Hey, if you feel strongly about this and are certain of your position then jump into the PUBLIC debate on this issue. Bring your opinions and facts to a Council meeting, run for office, do something to make a difference.
Posted by $13M per life saved, a resident of the Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 4:38 pm
Peter, have you noticed that you haven't actually disputed the factual nature of my computation. I'm willing to concede that it's on the back of an envelope, but based on what little I know about the issue it seems like it's in the right ballpark.
It seemed like your prior discussions had called for facts, now that I've provided a few based on census and usfa statistics, I now have to run for office for my calculations to be relevant.
I'm asking you as an elected representative, is your position to advocate for sprinklers depsite the high cost per life saved, or is it your position to advocate for them because you believe my numbers are somehow inaccurate? If they are inaccurate, tell me what I've done wrong.
My opinion is that the primary vociferous proponents of residential fire sprinklers stand to benefit directly from their installation. Funny that nobody seems to questioning their motives.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 4:50 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Anonymous poster states "USFA statistics show that the country average is 13.2 deaths annually per million residents, but in California that number is 8.2 deaths per million residents. It is not unreasonable to expect that Menlo Park that number is more like 1 or 2 deaths per million"
13.2 deaths annually per million residents for US is a fact - good work
8.2 deaths per million residents for California is a fact - good work
But 1 or 2 per million for Menlo Park, 8% of US rate and 15% of California rate is wild speculation.
Therefore any cost figures based on wild speculation are just that - wild speculation.
Posted by $13M per life saved, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 5:20 pm
Ok, that's true, it is speculative that Menlo Park is much better than average Ca fatality rate, but as I've said, I just trying to ballpark what the real range might be.
Looking at wikipedia says that average HARDWARE cost of sprinkler install is $2-5 per sq ft. Ok, I think I might be not wildly speculating to say the average house size in Menlo Park exceeds 1000 sq feet. If just the hardware is going to cost $3000 the install must cost something, so we're back to by $5000 number even in new construction. Really, let's be real here, I'm being wildly conservative, and Peter is just ignoring that fact.
Now, my $13 million per life number was based on 1 death per 13.2 million residents not on the Ca average which 8.2. I guess that is wild speculation because maybe Menlo Park is doing much worse that California as a whole, but given our demographics, I just doubt it.
I anonymously say the number is $13 million per life, but I show you how I get there. Is the number less? I guess it could be, I just haven't heard any reason why that could be true. Moreover, it's not wild speculation to assert that the lives saved would be disproportionately elderly because I looked at the USFA excel spreadsheet that lists every one of the 1446 fire fatalities from 2008, and there are a boat load of elderly deaths. If you ask for the exact tally, I'll give it to you but I'm pretty sure that it will weaken not strengthen the pro sprinkler argument.
So is $13M worth it? Honestly, I don't know. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but this kind of rational thought process does not seem to be applied to the discussion.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 6:01 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
IF anyone wants to do their homework then here are some good sources:
1 - Saving Lives, Saving Money
A 10 YEAR STUDY Scottsdale Arizona
The Case for Residential Sprinklers
Residential sprinklers represent a different approach and technology. They add fire suppression to the early warning of smoke detectors. First, a heat sensitive element-called the fusible link-detects the heat from fires. Second, the sprinkler releases water on the fire, extinguishing the fires or confining the fire until the fire department arrives. It is the ability of sprinkler systems to control or extinguish fires in their early stages that makes them such a critical tool in fire protection strategy.
Each sprinkler head responds independently, so that when heat is detected and the sprinkler goes off-which is referred to as "activation"-it puts water only on the affected area and not throughout the rest of the house or building. In roughly 90 percent of all documented sprinkler activations in residences, one sprinkler has been sufficient to control the fire15.
The Appeal of Sprinkler Systems
The cost of sprinklers is significant compared to smoke detector costs. But the appeal of sprinklers is also significantly geared, for several basic reasons:
Sprinklers offer a package of protection that is far broader than what can be achieved by other interventions. With sprinklers, the homeowners are protecting not only lives, but also the property, the furnishings, and all the intangibles of residential security and peace of mind
Sprinklers achieve these benefits with proven automatic technology. Like other state-of-the-art automatic restraint systems (e.g. airbags), they do not rely on changed human behavior to prevent accidents and loss. The vast majority of all residential fires today are estimated to have behavioral causes-like careless smoking, unattended cooking or children playing with fire. While we cannot design adults to never smoke carelessly or all children to not hide in the closet after they have accidentally set a fire, we can design sprinkler systems to control the results of this behavior.
Sprinklers offer opportunities for more effective use of fire and emergency service resources. Sprinklers systems do not necessarily reduce the number of calls for firefighters, but they do reduce the severity of the fire, thereby reducing danger to firefighters and complexity of response. And because sprinklers could diminish the requirements of fire suppression, they also make it possible for the fire service to allocate more resources to important Emergency Medical Service (EMS) demands, search and rescue needs, etc.16.
Sprinkler Experience to Date
Ten years ago there was little experience with how sprinklers-if they were installed in significant numbers of residential dwellings-would affect the nationwide fire problem. Fortunately, we are now beginning to build a significant body of experience in various locations across the country.
Much of this work has been supported by the United States Fire Administration (USFA) as part of a concerted public and private sector effort to determine the appropriate role of residential sprinklers in the country's overall fire suppression and protection strategy. Some of the most extensive experience with residential sprinklers is reflected in the following locations or projects:
San Clemente, California in 1978, was the Nation's first jurisdiction to require residential fire sprinklers in all new properties.
Operation San Francisco, which in the early 1980s served as a national pilot project for residential sprinkler application and testing.
Operation Life Safety, a public/private consortium that, among other activities, monitors residential sprinkler activations all across the country, and tracks the human and property loss statistics for each of those activations.
Cobb County, Georgia, which has tested voluntary incentives, resulting in reduced construction costs, for builders who install sprinklers in new multi-family housing.
Napa, California, where a series of ordinances now require automatic sprinkler protection for a variety of new single and multi-family residences, including all new homes built more than 1.5 miles from a fire station.
Prince George's County, Maryland, which has required automatic fire sprinklers for all new residential construction, including single family dwellings, since 1987.
Scottsdale, Arizona, which passed the nation's most comprehensive sprinkler ordinance in 1985, requiring an automatic sprinkler system in every room of every new industrial, commercial or residential building in the city.
Several "retrofit" demonstration projects, supported by USFA and the National Association of Home Builders Research Center (NAHB-RC), to design and install sprinklers in low income single and multi-family housing units undergoing rehabilitation in a number of U.S. cities.
A self-contained, limited water supply sprinkler research and development project of USFA targeting mobile home fire safety.
Several demonstration projects, supported by USFA and NAHB-RC to identify barriers to residential sprinklers and solutions to these problems.
Port Angeles, Washington has been requiring sprinklers since 1986 in all newly constructed multi-family residential properties. They have also implemented a combination residential sprinkler system program reducing the cost of sprinkler installation by 30%. Subdivisions four minutes from a fire station are required to be sprinklered.
The Major Conclusions for Experience with Sprinklers
It is possible to draw a number of important conclusions about residential sprinklers from the projects and experience just listed. Most Significantly:
1. Residential Sprinklers Save Lives
The evidence on this point is overwhelming. There has not been a single residential fire fatality in a residence with a sprinkler system in either Napa, California or Cobb County, Georgia since the inception of those programs. There has not been a single fire fatality in Prince George's County, Maryland in a building with a sprinkler system. Scottsdale, Arizona credits sprinkler systems with saving up to 52 lives since the ordinance passed in 1985.
A 1984 report by the Bureau of Standards/National Institute of Standards and Technology estimated that the effect of adding fire sprinklers when smoke detectors are already present could reduce the number of fire fatalities by 63 percent.
A NFPA analysis of national data, collected from 1983 to 1992, indicates the number of fire deaths per 1,000 fires was reduced by 57 percent in homes with sprinklers.
2. Residential Sprinklers Reduce Property Loss
Again, the evidence is dramatic. Cobb County, Georgia and Napa, California reported minimal or incidental damage for all of their sprinkler activations, against potential losses extending into the millions, especially for Cobb's multi-family units. Nationally, average property loss in homes with sprinkers is 38% lower than homes without sprinklers, according to a NFPA survey of home fires reported to fire departments from 1983 - 1992.
Where communities have a great deal of experience with residential fire sprinklers the property loss reduction can be much higher. In Scottsdale, fire loss hit a ten-year low in 1992, despite nearly 30 percent population growth in the city in the previous decade. Scottsdale's tracking data show that the average loss in a home with sprinklers in the city, since 1985, has been $1,382, while the figure for the average loss in a house without sprinklers is $3,928.
3. Residential Sprinklers Costs Can Be Substantially Reduced and Offset
Builders are understandably reluctant to add to the cost of new construction, especially in a tough economy and at a time when there is already concern that large numbers of Americans are priced out of the new housing market.
Important research is underway to advance the technology, reduce the cost and identify ways to overcome barriers to widespread use. There is increasing evidence that innovations like combining the sprinkler system with the in-home plumbing system, streamlining of the design and permit process, acceptance of building code alternatives and new ideas in site plans for subdivisions can change the economics of sprinkler decisions.
Building code alternatives that communities can consider include: reduction in fire rated gypsum wall board requirements, alterations to attic fire stops, and reduced fire retardant standards for both masonry walls and doors. Cobb County, GA, is a national leader in building code alternatives, particularly for multi-family units.
More widespread is the use of alternatives in site plans for subdivisions that use residential fire sprinklers. Variations in length of set back, density of housing units, street width, turn around radius in cul-de-sacs, water main size and distance between fire hydrants, among others, produce cost savings for builders.
The United States Fire Administration is sponsoring a program with the National Association of Home Builders Research Center and the International City Management Association to identify barriers to residential fire sprinklers and test alternatives. They have developed and are testing a guide to simplify residential fire sprinkler system design and engineering and are working with combined domestic water and sprinkler system installations. In Cedar Rapids, IA, demonstrations, using the guide and a combined system, whole-sale costs have dropped under 50 cents per square foot. In their Prince George's County, MD, work, and in eight other sites, the guide has dropped costs to about 80 cents per square foot. Combined systems are expected to reduce these costs further.
Over Time, Residential Sprinklers Will Slow Increases in the Cost of Fire Protection and Allow the Fire Service to Put More Emphasis on Other Pressing Emergency Resource Needs.
Systematic studies of the comparative cost of fire service operation with and without residential sprinklers have not yet been done on a national basis, but individual community experience establishes a clear trend, especially in communities where rapid population growth would otherwise require significant expansion of the fire service. Several high-growth California communities report reduced growth of fire department costs, without any reduction in level of service. Former San Clemente Fire Chief Ron Coleman-who is now the California State Fire Marshal-recently noted how his service "used sprinklers as a means of controlling the fire problem without enormous increases in fire stations, equipment and manpower, as the communities were being built up."
Similar trends are reported for Scottsdale, Arizona, which grew by nearly 30, percent in the seven years after passage of the sprinkler ordinance. Today, Scottsdale citizens pay 30-50 percent less for fire services than residents in surrounding communities. But at the same time, according to Scottsdale officials, the city's Rural/Metro fire service is able to employ more than 50 percent more fire prevention personnel than the regional average.17 These individuals spend their time in public fire education, building inspection, plan review, arson investigation, and fire prevention administration. This reallocation of available resources, to growing EMS demands or to other basic public services (education or police for example) can be a significant benefit to localities across the country.
5. Residential Sprinklers Have Potential to Reduce Homeowner and Property Insurance Costs
At the present time, insurance reductions are much more common for multi-family units with sprinklers, or for institutional kinds of residential properties-nursing homes, dormitories, etc.-than they are for single family units. Owners of four of the five multi-family units involved in the USFA sprinkler retrofit project received reduction in insurance premiums, for example, after installation of sprinklers. The rate of reduction ranged from 4-40 percent.18 In the one and two family unit market, reductions occur, but thus far the timetable for action is longer and the percentages of reduction less dramatic. Collectively, more work is necessary to encourage the insurance industry to carry long-standing commercial insurance discounts for sprinkler systems to the residential market.
In general, the Insurance Service Office (ISO) recommends a 13 percent discount for a one or two family residential sprinkler system meeting NFPA 13D standards-with 2 percent more if smoke detectors are also present. This is from the total premium, not just the fire portion.19
The evidence from communities that have led the way with voluntary sprinkler programs or ordinances suggests that benefits to date are substantial, for both saved lives and saved property. The evidence further suggests that down-the-road benefits, in terms of reduced construction and insurance costs, and greater control of future fire service cost increases, will also be substantial.
Protecting Lives and Property with Residential Sprinklers: Where are We Today?
1. The incidence of residential sprinklers nation-wide is extremely low.
Today, residential sprinklers are probably found in fewer than one percent of all one and two family housing units. The nationwide figure for multi-family units, while believed to be greater, is probably less than 10 percent. Incidence of residential sprinklers in communities with ordinances and voluntary programs ran considerably higher-Prince George's County in Maryland estimates that 20 percent of all multi-family units, and 4 percent of one and two family units, now have sprinkler systems, for example. But nationwide, the penetration numbers are very low, especially if existing housing stock, as opposed to new, is considered.
2. A substantial amount of the research and demonstration work, to develop the technology for quick, reliable, and affordable sprinklers, has been completed.
USFA-supported research in the last 15 years has produced significant technological gain. The basic technology has been made to activate much faster (sprinklers now exist for residential use that have a response time five times faster than commercial sprinklers). Sprinklers have been adapted to meet the particular requirements of virtually every kind of residential housing.
Sprinklers are no longer unattractive (in the sense of being less obtrusive to the homeowner). Sprinklers are increasingly less demanding in terms of water flow-in many instances they operate off the domestic water supply and do not require any special lines or pumps. Low water volume units with self-contained water supplies have been developed to meet the particular requirements of manufactured homes, where fire danger is severe.
High priority research and development over the next few years needs to focus on sprinkler systems that will create the potential to give builders realistic cost saving construction alternatives when installing sprinklers in one and two family units. Especially important are "combined systems" in which the sprinkler system and domestic water supply are merged into a single component. It will also make retrofitting far more feasible economically.
3. The performance standards, covering specifications for sprinkler installation, maintenance and inspection) have been developed.
Sprinkler standards have been promulgated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for all types of residential dwellings. The NFPA, which represents a broad cross section of the industry-firefighters, architects, engineers, insurance companies, manufacturers, code officials and equipment installers and inspectors-developed the first residential sprinkler standard in 1975 and has updated and extended its work on a regular basis since then.
We now have a Standard (NFPA-13) for large (In most commercial) buildings, Standards (NFPA-13D) for one- and two-family dwellings and manufactured homes, and NFPA-13R for residential occupancies up to and including four-stories in height.
An additional standard - NFPA 25 - (which replaces NFPA-13A/14A)-was added in 1992 and covers the inspection, testing and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems, including sprinkler systems in accordance with NFPA-13. This brings the critical issue of quality control under nationally recognized standards. Periodic inspection of sprinkler systems is important to insure that they perform as intended. Work continues to ensure that simplified methods of design and engineering can be brought to residential systems.
4. There are a number of water, and water-related issues connected to sprinklers that need further resolution.
One issue relates to backflow prevention. Backflow prevention devices, which isolate the water used for sprinkler systems from that used for domestic purpose, are required in many jurisdictions. Various types of devices are available to perform this backflow function, however, in some communities the standards may be more stringent than needed to guarantee drinking water purity. This can adversely affect consumers by pushing up the cost of sprinkler system installation.
Additionally, water authorities in a number of communities around the country have adopted policies of charging fees to homeowners for the initial connection of the sprinkler system to the water supply (connection fee), and for maintaining the availability of water, should it be needed (standby charge).
The amount of the fees varies widely, and in some cases clearly constitutes a pronounced financial disincentive to sprinklers. In nearly 50 California communities surveyed in the first half of 1993, for example, the average residential connection fee is $1,646 and the average residential standby fee is $143 annually.20
Sprinkler proponents believe that these fees-especially the standby fees-are questionable policy. There is no charge to homeowners who have not protected their property with sprinklers for the far greater amount of water that is needed to suppress a fire once it occurs. They are working with national water supply organizations to develop a more rational approach.
5. There is increasing Congressional action, and action on the state level, in support of residential sprinklers.
Congress has passed two pieces of legislation in the past three years that puts the leadership of the Federal government to work on behalf of sprinklers. The first, the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990, requires workers on Federal travel to stay only in facilities equipped with smoke detectors and sprinklers that meet the applicable NFPA standards. The second, the Federal Fire Safety Act of 1992, requires the installation of sprinklers in all newly-constructed government-owned high rise buildings, in all newly-leased Federal facilities, and in all multi-family Federally-assisted housing more than four stories in height.
At the state level, there is also action, especially from the National Association of State Fire Marshals which is playing a vigorous role, in cooperation with the United States Fire Administration, to ensure implementation of both of these acts. Some states have, in fact, enacted legislation on these issues.
6. Action in communities to introduce residential sprinklers in new construction is accelerating, and is thus significantly ahead of the code organizations with respect to one and two family dwellings.
Many communities across the country are proceeding with residential fire sprinkler system requirements. Cobb County, Georgia and Napa, California have been extensively profiled-they have been joined by hundreds of other communities. Increasing attention by building code organizations, including NFPA, demonstrate this growth in sprinkler interest. California jurisdictions appear to lead the country in residential fire sprinkler installation. In 1978 there was one community (City of San Clemente-population: 30,000) in California which had the requirement for "all newly constructed single-family dwellings to be equipped with residential fire sprinklers."
7. Homebuilders are offering home buyers options for residential sprinklers in new construction more frequently, as the benefits of sprinklers become better known and as incentives, in the form of construction alternatives, increase.
For the first time in 1993, there was a model house with sprinklers-the Safe and Smart Home-exhibited at the National Association of Homebuilders Annual Convention. The NAHB Research Center is presently working on demonstration projects-funded by the United States Fire Administration and conducted jointly with the International City/County Management Association-to implement construction alternatives that can bring down builders' costs for sprinklers. This project, identifying barriers to residential sprinklers and developing innovative alternatives, is an important initiative.
8. Public awareness of the benefits of sprinklers is low.
Increased public awareness is the critical next step in the drive to sprinkler America's residential housing. There are three avenues for action:
Highlight for all citizens the basic data about the extent to which sprinklers save lives and property. Even in advance of the code changes that will remove barriers to sprinklers nationwide, this can encourage the same consumers who demand airbags in their cars, and who spend several thousand dollars to protect their homes with electronic alarm systems, to demand homes with sprinklers. These consumers will seek to protect their families and seize an opportunity to improve their quality of life.
Educate the public with the facts about residential fire sprinkler technology:
Technology has created attractive, unobtrusive designs of residential fire sprinklers.
Residential fire technology has advanced reliability and responsiveness.
In experience to date, 90 percent of fires are contained with one documented sprinkler operating. Each residential fire sprinkler responds independently, resulting in fires rarely spreading beyond the room of origin.
A community with sprinklers will require significantly less water for fire suppression since a residential sprinkler uses as little as 10 to 18 gallons per minute, as compared to the 150 gallons per minute needed to manually suppress a small house fire.
Reach opinion leaders with information that links sprinklers with several broad and increasingly accepted truths-that the country needs affordable housing; that conservation of natural resources (i.e. water) is a must; and that we must find a way to reduce demand on public sector services. Residential sprinklers fit naturally into the debate around all three of these issues. Each is basically an economic issue, and it will be economic arguments that ultimately will drive the sprinkler issue. The conclusions will be that we cannot afford not to use sprinklers, given the alternatives, and that we must find ways-largely through construction and land use incentives and action on water charges-to bring down the cost of sprinklers. A concerted effort to reach opinion leaders with these economic arguments is a priority next step.
Residential sprinklers have the potential to reduce fire death and property loss attributable to fire. They can do so without jeopardizing the affordability of the housing stock in this country. They can enhance the capacity of public officials to provide for the health and safety of all our citizens-including those most at risk, such as the elderly, the very young, and the disabled.
At the same time, residential sprinklers can help to flatten future expenditures for fire-without diminishing the quality of fire service and protection. This is vital in a time of distressed public sector budgets.
The United States Fire Administration gratefully acknowledges the support of a number of individuals and organizations in the preparation of this report. It is impossible to cite the guidance of every individual and organization and we apologize for any omittance. In particular we would like to acknowledge the support of the organizations involved in the Partners for Fire Safe Homes.
15. Operation Life Safety. "379 Activations."
16. Institute for Local Self Government. Op. Cit. Page 19
17. Scottsdale Rural/Metro Fire Department "Perspective on Progress." 1993. Page 4.
18. United States Fire Administration. "Residential Fire Sprinkler Retrofit Demonstration Project: Final Report" 1989. Pages 30, 55.
National Fire Sprinkler Association. "Homeowner's Guide to Fire Sprinkler Systems." Page 4.
20. Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board of Southern California "1993-Fire Sprinkler Ordinance Survey."
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Nov 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online
Evaluating Community Emergency Services – A Public Entity Risk Institute Symposium
Incorporating Fire Sprinkler Systems into Community Fire Protection Strategies By Steve Thorne Fire Marshal Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) When people think of fire protection, they generally think of the fire department; firefighters, and fire trucks responding in a fire emergency to save lives and property. From a technical perspective, fire protection begins by assuming that fire prevention will never be 100% successful and that fires will occur. At the community level, this requires planning and designing strategies to minimize loss of life and property when fire occurs. The various strategies to do this constitute what is usually called fire protection [NFPA, 1991]. The need for fire protection is illustrated in the following U.S. statistics for calendar year 2000 [NFPA, 2002]: • Municipal fire departments responded to 20,520,000 calls. • Municipal fire departments responded to an estimated 1,708,000 fires. • Fires resulted in 4,045 civilian deaths and 22,350 reported civilian fire injuries. • Direct property damage was estimated at $11.2 billion dollars. • One hundred and two firefighters died while on duty. The average national “call” frequency (average) for different types of “fire” calls in 2000 [NFPA 2002] were: Type of Call Rate All fire department calls 38.9 per minute Any fire call 3.2 per minute Structure fire call 1.0 per minute On a national level, fire protection efforts over the last two decades to reduce the “fire problem” have been an unqualified success. Reported fires fell 48 percent from 3,264,000 in 1977 to a record low of 1,708,000 in 2000. Total civilian fire deaths have been on a downward trend since 1977 and have fallen 45% from 1977 to 2000 (see Table 1). Similarly, civilian injuries in 2000 are down 26 percent from those reported in 1980 [NFPA, 2002]. From my perspective, the successes indicated in the statistics are a result of effective fire protection strategies being implemented at the community level. In general, communities, whether urban, suburban, or rural, have recognized the need and importance of fire protection and have developed and maintained fire protection infrastructures and programs such as fire departments, water supplies for fire departments, and fire prevention programs which include public fire education, plan reviews, and inspections. Relationships with the community media have been developed and fostered so that fire protection spokepersons can immediately communicate “lessons learned” from a recent fire directly to the community. One fire protection area where the opportunity for improvement remains large is in residential structures – our homes. This paper discusses the need for communities to integrate sprinklers into their residential fire protection strategy, the benefits associated with this strategy, as well as some concepts to consider when doing so. Home Fires and the Structure Fire Problem In 2000, 73 percent (368,000) of the structure fires occurred in homes. (Homes include one- and two-family dwellings, apartments, and manufactured housing.) With regard to fatalities, 85 percent of the 4,045 total civilian deaths (for 2000) occurred in home structure fires. As indicated by Ahrens , and illustrated in Table 1, the trend of civilian fire deaths and home fire deaths per year for the past two decades closely resemble one another. For the period 1994-1998, an average of 406,400 reported home structure fires caused 3,498 civilian deaths, 18,092 civilian injuries, and $4.4 billion in direct property damage per year. When evaluating the home fire problem in the context of the overall structure fire problem, Ahrens further reports that for the period 1995-1999: • Two-thirds of the civilian fire deaths resulted from structure fires in one- and two- family homes, • Apartment fires accounted for 13% of the deaths, • About half of the civilian fire injuries occurred in one- and two-family home fires, • One-fifth of civilian fire injuries occurred in apartment fires, and • Only 8% of all fires were non-residential structure fires. Thus, as indicated by Ahrens [NFPA, 2002], it can be concluded that home fires dominate the structure fire problem. This conclusion is consistent with the fire scenario cited in the Appendix of NFPA 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment for Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments (2001 Edition). The explanatory text in the Appendix indicates that the initial full alarm assignment capability is for a response to a structural fire in a typical 2000 square-foot single family occupancy without a basement and with no exposures (detached home). The standard also notes that: “All communities respond to fire incidents in this type of structure on a regular basis and therefore the hazards presented by this scenario are not unusual...” Fire Facts When looking for solutions to the home fire problem, it is important to note the trends regarding cause and origin of the fire as well as contributing factors that might influence the fire’s consequences. Once again, Ahrens [NFPA 2001] provides insight: • Kitchens are the leading area of origin for home structure fires. • Half of the civilian fire fatalities were people who were outside the room of origin killed by fires that spread flames beyond the room of origin.
• Forty percent of reported home structure fires occurred in properties with working smoke alarms. • The peak period for home structure fires during the five-year period from 1994-1998 was between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m., likely correlating with household members arriving home, turning up the heat, and cooking the evening meal. • Cooking and heating are the leading causes of home structure fires. • Home fire deaths peak between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., when most people are asleep. • Almost half (46%) of the fatal fire injuries occurred in fires reported between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., although only 20% of the fires were reported during this time. Automatic Fire Sprinkler Effectiveness Automatic sprinklers are effective elements of fire protection systems design in both residential and non-residential structures. As evidenced in Tables 2 and 3, when sprinklers are present, the chances of dying in a fire are substantially reduced and property loss per fire is cut by more than half. Despite the statistical case for sprinklers, communities have been slow in incorporating them into their fire protection strategies. I believe this will change when communities adopt a strategy that integrates public and fire service education, legislation, a realistic implementation plan, and a long-term view for system stewardship. One community success story is the City of Scottsdale, Arizona. Its sprinkler strategy, originating in a sprinkler ordinance to the City Council on June 4, 1985, required sprinkler protection in all new construction, including single-family homes. The sprinkler ordinance was implemented on January 1, 1986. As of January 1, 1996, 19,649, or 35 percent, of Scottsdale’s single-family homes were sprinklered, as were 13,938, or 49 percent, of the city’s multifamily homes. Between 1986 and 1995, residential sprinklers activated in 44 of the 598 home fires that occurred in Scottsdale. Forty-one of these fires were controlled or contained by one or two sprinklers. No one died in these 44 fires. In contrast, 10 people died in 8 fires, all in unsprinklered single-family homes during that same period [Ford, 1997]. Education In order for a community to begin a successful sprinkler program, those viewed as leaders of the fire protection community must believe in it. This includes the fire chief, the fire marshal, the firefighters, the mayor, county executive, and others whom the community views as the ‘fire experts.’ For leaders to believe, they need to be informed of the basics: how they work, what they cost, what causes them to operate, what to do when they operate, how to maintain them, etc. There must be confidence at the leadership level, similar to that seen in smoke detectors, from which to build community support. Once the leadership is educated, the media must be educated and used to educate the public. Movies depicting sprinklers operating in an entire building due to a small fire or one match actuating a single sprinkler in one area of the building illustrate the relatively low awareness the general public has regarding sprinkler operation. They also provide a benchmark for where the education needs to begin and provide an opportunity for the media to separate myth from reality. The media and public education will need to be re-enforced by both the fire protection community and the media. When fires are reported to the community, the ‘fire experts’ need to communicate to the public whether sprinklers were present. If they were, they need to reinforce the reduction in fire damage and the potentially life saving attributes that resulted from its operation. The media can ‘assist’ in the public education by asking the ‘fire experts’ pointed questions like: Was the structure sprinklered?, Why not?, Would sprinklers have made a difference? This type of dialog in front of the public is critical to changing the way the public regards sprinklers and their importance to the community fire protection strategy. Legislation and Implementation In order to be effective as a fire protection strategy, the installation of sprinklers needs to be mandatory. This necessitates that the requirements be standardized and codified. This requires the support of the legislators. To get their support, the standards and codes as well as the implementation and enforcement provisions must be rational and demonstrate a tangible benefit to the public. Issues such as cost of installation, impacts to water supply, impacts on housing costs and home insurance should be considered and presented in the context of a “business case” and the long-term good for the community. In the case of Scottsdale, it was reported that homeowners received on average, a 10% discount on insurance for approved residential sprinkler protection. Thus, each homeowner with a residential sprinkler system could see a tangible benefit. In considering the cost of construction, the average residential sprinkler system was determined to cost approximately $1.14 per square foot for a 2,000-square-foot home. When accounting for other design benefits such as increases in cul-de-sac lengths from 600 feet to a maximum of 2,000 feet, increases in hydrant spacing, and decreases in fire flow demand for structures by 50 percent (i.e. small water mains and water storage tanks), the total costs of installing a residential sprinkler system were $157.24 to the builder and approximately $212.27 to the buyer [Ford, 1997]. With the recent issuance of NFPA 1710, it will be interesting to see how jurisdictions use sprinkler protection as a means of achieving equivalency when explicit compliance with the resource and response time objectives of the standard is deemed impractical. As evidenced by Scottsdale, a code provision which stipulates sprinkler protection for only new construction may be acceptable when it can be shown that sprinkler installation costs are reasonable. A recent estimate by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition equate the costs of sprinkler installation to roughly 1 to 1 ˝ percent of the total building cost [Coalition, 2002]. In the context of a 30-year planning cycle, it is likely that a large percentage of the community would become “sprinkler protected.” Eventually, with fire expert and media support, that percentage would likely become a catalyst for the public desiring sprinkler protection in existing residential structures.
Stewardship The effectiveness of the sprinkler strategy will be realized during performance in actual fires. To sustain sprinkler system reliability and operability, long-term stewardship is required. This involves ensuring that: • sprinkler system designs are appropriate (not under-designed and not over-designed, • sprinkler systems are properly maintained, and • the public is educated in its performance and maintenance. Sprinkler systems which do not work because the sprinklers are defective or which break and cause extensive damage due to freezing weather, corrosion, or improper installation can cause loss of public confidence and can hamstring or stall a program. Thus, the fire protection community must make a long-term commitment to ensuring that the systems installed are reliable and warrant the trust of the public. This may include warranty provisions for the equipment, qualification provisions for the installers and educational provisions for advising the public on matters such as freeze protection, and sprinkler recalls. Conclusions The time for communities to develop and institute a sprinkler strategy into the community fire protection program is now. The residential sprinkler technology has been proven. The costs associated with installing sprinklers in new construction are reasonable. The codes and standards developed by NFPA governing the design and installation of sprinkler systems are in place and can be adopted by communities. What is required is an objective look at the community fire protection strategy and a vision to see what can be accomplished in a 20 to 30 year period.
References: Ahrens, M. 2001. The U.S. Fire Problem Overview Report Leading Causes and Other Patterns and Trends. June, 2001. National Fire Protection Association, Fire Analysis and Research Division, 1 Batterymarch Park, P.O. Box 9101, Quincy, MA 02269-9101. Coalition, 2002. “Controlling the Home Fire Threat”. A Home Fire Sprinkler System Guide, Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. National Fire Protection Association,1 Batterymarch Park, P.O. Box 9101, Quincy, MA 02269-9101 Ford, J., 1997. “Once City’s Case for Residential Sprinkler Systems”. NFPA Journal, July/August, 1997. National Fire Protection Association, 1 Batterymarch Park, P.O. Box 9101, Quincy, MA 02269-9101 NFPA, 1991. Fire Protection Handbook. National Fire Protection Association, 1 Batterymarch Park, P.O. Box 9101, Quincy, MA 02269-9101 NFPA 2002. “Fire in 2000: The Big Picture”. Fire Marshal’s Quarterly, Spring 2002. National Fire Protection Association, 1 Batterymarch Park, P.O. Box 9101, Quincy, MA 02269-9101.
Posted by $13M / life saved, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Nov 26, 2009 at 1:20 am
Could you spam us with a little more? I asked a simple question, how much is it going to cost per life saved. You spewed our reams of stuff that may or may not have anything salient.
It's the old, I don't have a quality answer, but maybe quantity will do. Or at least bury the discussion under enough trees that maybe nobody will notice.
And then rather than thinking for yourself or citing somewhat objective governmental analysis, you recapitulate position papers from the National Fire Protection Association. And then when one looks into who the NFPA is, they discover that it is a quasi commercial organization dominated by commercial manufacturers and insurance companies. Shocking that they should be pro-sprinklers, what a surprise.
Ok, I looked around and found two government cost-benefit analysis papers. The earlier one in the 1980's concluded that sprinklers were clearly not cost effective. The 2007 report is, however, quite interesting. It concludes that sprinklers are cost effective, but you need to read the report to understand how they got there. They assume that in 2005, average sprinkler install will be around $1/square foot as a national average. Then they also assume that the economic value of a life saved is, drum roll, about $8M. They further assume that the average value of injury averted is about $175K. Under these circumstances, the conclude that sprinklers are indeed cost effective.
Well, that was on a national basis. We already know that California fire averages less fatalities (8.2 vs 13.2), so that $8M number is more like, what say $13M per life saved.
But then we also need to factor in the reality that sprinklers are not going to cost $1/sq ft in California. Even the NFPA numbers that Peter cites use 1-1.5% of building cost. On new home construction, in Menlo Park, I think we can safely say that we're talking about much more than $5K per house.
So, are you willing to spend $13M to save a life? Maybe, if that life was typically a young one. But then we look at the statistics of average age risk of mortality in house fire from the USFA, and we see that the cohort over 70-80 dominates the numbers. Are you willing to pay $13M so that somebody can live 3 or 5 years longer? It would be great if we could afford that, but in the health insurance world, they insist on using numbers more like $60K per year of life saved.
Ok, maybe I will have to come down and speak at a public meeting; the non-rational, non thoughtful process that I am hearing about is discouraging.
Posted by Satire, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Nov 29, 2009 at 7:17 am
$13M: Thanks for your insightful analysis. I think the price is too high for these systems. Those who legislated this requirement were apparently swayed by interest groups and now the citizens are stuck with the bill.
Sprinkler systems have a place in high density structures, such as condos and apartments. They just do not make economic sense in single family residences.