Fire Chief Rick Ennis broke an NFPA blog record when his commentary on a fatal fire death involving a two year old was viewed more than 20,000 times.
He has graciously accepted our request to regularly blog for NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative, joining our other unique voices in the push for increased acceptance and use of home fire sprinklers. Here is his inaugural post:
I am honored to have been asked to contribute regularly to this blog. I am guessing you have two pressing questions at the moment: One, who the heck is this guy? And two, why the heck is he writing a monthly blog about fire sprinklers? I thought I would open by offering this basic premise: The U.S. fire service has always been divided into two general camps—prevention people and suppression people.
Prevention folks have generally believed that the best fire is the one that never starts. Their beliefs are rooted in the findings of President Truman’s National Conference on Fire Prevention in 1947 and focused on fire protection through engineering, enforcement, and education. They are associated with taking a proactive approach to fire and life safety. Prevention people strive for a future in which unfriendly fires cease to exist.
Suppression guys have generally believed that the best fires are the ones to which they are first-in. Their beliefs are rooted in traditions pre-dating President Truman and focus on fire protection through aggressive firefighting strategies, tactics, and task assignments. They are associated with taking a reactive approach to firefighting and rescue. Suppression people strive to hone their craft to be the best of the best at what they do.
Fire sprinklers have traditionally been seen as a “prevention” issue. They are mostly discussed in prevention bureaus. Sprinklers are something fire protection engineers design, code enforcement officials endorse, and public education officers promote. Suppression people simply learn about the components of various fire sprinklers in the academy, during an occasional drill, or while studying for a promotion. Suppression folks pre-plan which buildings are sprinklered and respond to sprinkler activations. To the average prevention and suppression person, fire sprinklers are most often associated with large- or special-occupancy hazards.
Let’s be honest: we need both prevention and suppression people, and we need them to better balance themselves. Fortunately, there are those who achieve a balance in their beliefs and in their approach to fire protection. No matter how well we achieve prevention, as long as there are human beings, we will have fires and, therefore, we will need suppression. Which brings me back to the purpose of this blog.
Fire sprinklers are, in my opinion, not a prevention issue. Sprinklers are a fire-suppression issue. Rather than prevent fires from starting, sprinklers quickly suppress fires when they do start. Fire sprinklers are not proactive. They react quickly to the heat of a fire. Yes, sprinklers need to be engineered to national industry standards. Yes, sprinkler requirements are enforced through code adoption. Yes, we need to educate the public (including consumers, builders, realtors, elected officials, etc.) about the benefits of fire sprinklers. Just like we need to educate fire suppression personnel about the benefits fire sprinklers provide to the suppression process.
Fire sprinklers are a fire suppression issue. That is the premise on which this blog will be based. Check this blog often to see how fire sprinklers fit into the future of fire suppression. I look forward to making it an interactive blog, and invite you to share your thoughts and questions in the comments section.
Rick Ennis is fire chief for the City of Cape Girardeau in Missouri and chair of the Missouri Fire Sprinkler Coalition.