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A Look at America's Fire Crisis

New lightweight construction methods and materials are making it harder and more dangerous for firefighters to safely extinguish blazes and for occupants to escape safely.

To the Editor,

The United States is on the brink of a fire crisis. New lightweight construction methods and materials are making it harder and more dangerous for firefighters to safely extinguish blazes and for occupants to escape safely.

It’s estimated that most homes built within the past 20 years contain these dangerous lightweight materials, which are designed to carry a greater load with less material by using prefabricated components. While these lightweight construction materials are touted as being more cost-effective and environmentally friendly, they also allow fires to spread much more rapidly, significantly reducing the time occupants have to escape a fire, and the time firefighters have to safely extinguish the blaze. In Carmel, New York tragedy struck this spring when a fire claimed four lives, spreading so quickly that the entire structure fully collapsed within 10 minutes. Firefighters attributed the quick collapse to the home’s lightweight construction materials.

Materials used in today’s home furnishings are also contributing to the accelerated pace of home fires. Newer plastic fillings in sofas, chairs, and mattresses burn much faster than older fillings like cotton, reducing the time it takes for a room to heat to 1,100 degrees and reach flashover -- the temperature point at which the heat in an area is high enough to ignite all flammable materials simultaneously. The tragic 2007 Charleston, S.C. furniture warehouse fire that took the lives of nine firefighters is a strong indication of just how dangerous these materials can be in a home during a fire.

While many states have rejected the International Code Council’s requirement for all new one- and two-family homes to include fire sprinklers, the fact remains that fire sprinkler systems would offset the danger created by lightweight construction methods and today’s synthetic furnishings, providing greater protection to building occupants and emergency first-responders.

Currently, California and Maryland are the only states that require fire sprinklers in new homes. I urge you to educate yourself on the current mandate in your own city and state and learn how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from the ravages of fire.

Properly installed and maintained fire sprinklers control and typically extinguish a fire before the fire department even arrives on the scene. More importantly, the presence of fire sprinklers mitigates the risk to individuals affected by the blaze, including firefighters who battle the fire.

Fire sprinklers are the only proactive form of fire protection, providing firefighters the time they need to do their jobs effectively and as safely as possible while helping to avoid potential injuries and devastating tragedies.

How prepared would you be if fire struck where you live? Fire sprinklers save lives and property.

Sincerely,

Russell Fleming

President, National Fire Sprinkler Association

Patterson, NY

845 878-4200

fleming@nfsa.org

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