Retired Chief John Lightbody, Commissioner, NJ State Fire Safety Commission, and member of the NJ Fire Sprinkler Coalition wrote an article highlitghting the negative impact posed by lightweight construction and the importance of home fire sprinkler requirements in offsetting the dangers to firefighters and protecting life and property in the context of providing monetary savings for communities.
The article is published in the June 2012 edition of the NJ State League of Municipalities magazine and follows below in its entirety:
Sprinkler Systems Save Money and Lives
In New Jersey, our communities are protected from the devastation of fire by 33,000 volunteers, saving municipalities in New Jersey millions of dollars each year. Approximately 75 percent of our New Jersey firefighting force is comprised of volunteers with multiple responsibilities. However, their numbers are dwindling. This trend will stress the already delicate budgets of communities as well as citizens' safety.
Although there are many reasons for the decline, a key reason is that today's fires are more dangerous and harder to control. This is due to the popularity of lightweight, energy efficient construction.
In older, traditional buildings flash-over could occur within ten to twelve minutes of the fire's beginning stage. A flash-over occurs when the heat of the fire reaches the point at which all the contents ignite simultaneously. In modern, lightweight buildings a flash-over can occur in as little as three minutes (often before firefighters can arrive).
When fires reach flash-over point so quickly there is no time for search and rescue and few occupants can escape. The fire is harder to extinguish and more dangerous for firefighters. These structures often feature smaller timbers, which make the building collapse more likely.
The most cost-effective and safe solution is to require automatic fire sprinklers in buildings with lightweight construction. Even with the added cost of $2.00 or less per square foot, lightweight construction is far less expensive than traditional construction.
Sprinklers would reduce the life-threatening risk to our volunteer and career firefighters, save occupants' lives, and reduce injuries and property damage. Sprinklers would mean a structure is back on the municipal tax roles sooner than a building that needs rebuilding.
Municipalities would receive better Insurance Services Organization (ISO) ratings, lower insurance premium for public buildings, community business owners and homeowners. The distance of hydrant spacing could be increased, resulting in significant budget savings. Water is conserved because a sprinkler head uses 25 gallons per minute versus 200 gallons a minute from fire department hose streams.
Ultimately, sprinklers will reduce time spent at the fire scene and lower risk to residents and firefighters. In addition fewer volunteer hours would be required to secure a fire scene.
Chief Lightbody is to be commended for reaching out to this very important stakeholder, increasing awareness of the importance of home fire sprinkler requirements on many fronts. At a time when sprinkler opponents are pushing legislation, limiting communities' right to adopt a code containing minimum requirements of safety in new home construction, reaching out to leagues of cities and other policy makers' membership organizations becomes paramount.
The points made by Chief Lightbody in the article are substantiated by numerous research studies that may be accessed from the Reports/Research section of this website.
Visit the NJ coalition site to obtain information specific to the State of NJ.