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Winning the Public Relations War

Media responses to fire code and fire sprinkler related articles, we need to all get involved and mobilized!   

INTRODUCTION

It is imperative that fire service and fire sprinkler advocates become more proactive and communicate on behalf of the importance of fire sprinklers.

WHY?

Fire Code and Fire sprinkler opponents currently have the upper hand as they are participating in a seemingly organized manner with immediate responses when articles pertaining to fire code and or fire sprinklers appear in the media. Those opposed to  fire code or fire sprinkler changes  are making comments full of misinformation to discredit the life saving effects of  codes and fire sprinklers. Unfortunately, those of us who are pro-sprinklers have not rebutted their statements enough or in an organized basis.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

We need to formally organize all of the fire service  components (chiefs, inspectors, instructors, management,  labor,   associations, etc.) to respond and participate whenever an anti-fire sprinkler or positive fire sprinkler article appears.  First to rebut any misinformation, and in the second reason to reinforce and support the positive statement; however, we first must develop and organized information gathering apparatus utilizing the most enhanced Google-type search method possible.

As you know you can create a free “google alert” for   fire codes or fire sprinklers and be notified any time the term is mentioned in the media. Go to www.google.com and search for “google alerts” to create an alert using applicable terms.

All articles that are posted on the Internet by a television, radio or newspaper  website  need to be gathered as soon as they are posted.

A pro-fire code or fire sprinkler response must be posted first --- if at all possible --- and the first three out of five, five out of seven, seven out of ten responses must be positive, in favor of  the upgrade to the code or fire sprinklers.

The first pro-fire code/sprinkler supporter to respond as well as subsequent responders must quote from the NFPA, USFA, FEMA, HFSC, U.L. and FM statistics. They must be concise and to the point. One or two facts quoted with supporting material should be the limit per post.  You can add a little “personality” in your response as long as it fits into the local culture or area.

If there is an antagonist in the article, his/her false information must be quickly refuted in a calm, fact-filled manner. Subsequent posts can support or reinforce the first positive post.

A decision needs to be made to respond personally or by name to the antagonist. You must also decide whether or not to continue to respond, or have another person respond to a rebuttal from the antagonist.

Below are two live examples that merely show what had actually happened:

Roscoe repeals ordinance on small buildings’ sprinklers

By Greg Stanley, Rockford Register Star (rrstar.com) August 22, 2011

 

ROSCOE — Small commercial buildings in Roscoe are no longer required to install sprinkler systems for fire suppression.

The Village Board repealed on Thursday an ordinance that requires automatic sprinklers in all new commercial buildings, no matter the size. The restrictions now will be in line with the International Fire Code, which doesn’t require sprinklers in certain buildings smaller than 5,000 square feet.

Village officials hope the change will help attract small businesses to Roscoe. Village President Dave Krienke said that in recent years potential businesses have opted to open in neighboring communities to avoid the cost of installing sprinkler systems.

In October, the Village Board placed a six-month moratorium on the sprinkler ordinance to chart what effect, if any, the ordinance has on business. The moratorium was later extended and was set to expire in December. But village officials decided to permanently repeal the restrictions immediately.

“We felt by taking it out now it would be better to let people know if they’re building something within the village limits that they’re not going to have a surprise cost added in the construction,” Krienke said.

Reach staff writer Greg Stanley at gstanley@rrstar.com or 815-987-1369.

Comments

LoveRockford

First, I will say I am a fire sprinkler contractor, I am proud to sell a proven product. The Holy Grail for any ailment, disaster or catastrophe is the magic bullet. Well for fires we have one; it is the fire sprinkler system. Just like air bags, child safety seats, seat belts and motor cycle helmets fire sprinkler systems are proven time after time to save lives and property.

It is sad to see the cost of our systems used by self serving organizations and politicians as a scapegoat for construction downturns or slow development. We see three Roscoe fire stations retrofitting sprinklers; we have them in schools, nursing homes, hotels and even many homes because they are affordable and proven.

Yes, affordable. Dont rely on wild self-serving cost estimates by the uninformed designed to sway code. We can look at real world PUBLIC bid openings, raw unadulterated data. Three recent public bid openings: Fox River Water District Office: Sprinklers were .078% of the project total cost. Randal Oaks Rec Center: Sprinklers were .065% of the project total cost. Elgin College Classroom Building: Sprinklers were .053% of the project total cost, also interesting the landscape budget was the same as sprinklers. Granted the percent of sprinkler cost will change with a small building but the life and property saving benefits are not any different.

So now we may or may not see a change in new construction, time will tell, but one thing is for sure if buildings are built without fire sprinkles we will continue to see fire damage, injuries and deaths while all along knowing we had a magic bullet to prevent them.

TomasG

No one can deny that sprinklers in a building have the potential to save lives..if not of the occupants then, those of the firefighters called to fight a fire. It seems to me that it is good public policy to have sprinklers, therefore perhaps a wiser move would have been to offer some type of tax abatement to help cover the cost of sprinkler system installation in new buildings. Restaurants, especially, have the potential for fires while occupied. I have a good friend whose whole career was spent in the fire safety industry. He will walk back out of a restaurant if he sees no sprinklers installed. I find it hard to believe that a business that thought Roscoe was a viable community to do business in, would locate elsewhere due to the inconsequential cost of a sprinkler system.

tom lia

The ICC codes do require fire sprinklers in institutional occupancies that are -0- square feet just to correct the statement in the article, and over 97 Illinois communities and fire districts have adopted -0- square foot fire sprinkler thresholds for commercial buildings. These requirements lower fire insurance, lower the towns ISO rating resulting in better insurance rates , and save property and businesses along with saving lives with quick response fire sprinkler technology. What is Mayor Krienke thinking? What will he and the trustees be thinking when there is a fire call and a civilian and/or a firefighter is burned or injured? Bad codes = a deteriorating community.

Palatine Patch

As you can see, these three responses were impromptu and spur of the moment, but effective enough to take the first three positive responses.

Harper College Takes Fire Science Out of the Classroom

Erin Brooks Media Relations Specialist at Harper College

 

A fire that erupts in a home with no sprinkler system can blaze for critical, life-changing minutes, reducing a room to flames and smoke before firefighters can make it to the scene.

Sprinklers can extinguish the blaze quickly on their own, often before emergency crews arrive.

Harper College’s Fire Science Technology Department staged a live, public demonstration of that difference this week, igniting a small fire in side-by-side, outdoor chambers.

Both chambers were furnished to look like living rooms, and both were life-size.

But only one had a sprinkler system.

The demo was intended as a lesson for both Harper’s fire science students and the community, Associate Professor and Fire Science Technology program coordinator Sam Giordano said.

It seemed to do the job.

The blaze quickly engulfed the first, sprinkler-less chamber – turning it into charred, blackened rubble and sending a billowing cloud of smoke and fire into the air above the transfixed crowd before Palatine firefighters, who were there to assist, extinguished it with a dousing of water.

The sprinklers in the second chamber, meanwhile, efficiently saved that room from a similar fate.

“Time is the biggest enemy in any fire, and demonstrations like this one are outstanding illustrations of the drastic difference that sprinkler systems can make,” Giordano said. “It’s vital for our students to see this, and it’s equally important for local residents to see it and to understand the importance of sprinkler systems.”

Sprinklers are mandated for new homes in some suburbs, but plenty of other towns have no such rule.

Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die and 20,000 are injured in fires – with the vast majority of those fatal blazes occurring in private homes.

Harper’s Fire Science Technology program offers associate degrees and accelerated degree-completion options for current public safety professionals.

For more information, call 847.925.6707.

Comments

tom lia

good job by a progressive fire science program coordinator and instructors, fire is a science and a serious business. I am glad the comparisons were made about protected and unprotected that show the speed of flashover, and the new quick response fire sprinkler technology that not only protects buildings but now is a life safety device. tom lia

Joseph Martinek

Great work in providing the public with a hands-on demonstration of the value
of sprinkler systems. Kudos to Professor Sam Giordano.

Terry L

This should be shown to all politicians and homeowners that do not want to enact such a law.

Bill

Seeing a side by side burn can really hit it home in showing the impact sprinklers can have in a home. If more people could see this and have a better understanding of how sprinklers work, we might see more of them installed.

Here was an example of pro-fire sprinkler article that had positive supporting reinforcement comments.

LOGISTICS--IMPLEMENTATION
The first response can be a local area response. In many situations, that is the best response for the proper regional, cultural and political response to get the flavor of the area correct. It can then move to a national network response.

It can be initiated by any fire service representative   response through the fire service group  E- mail network . The best way would be to coordinate resources, talent, expertise and manpower  to support each other. 

The appropriate local area response can be coordinated by the Chief’s  via the regional network  or, if in a concentrated County  area, it can be conducted by the local Chief’s  representative.   My own recommendation would be for a concerted statewide  effort  coordinated by the IFSA Residential Committee   or designated  who would then disseminate an alert that needs to immediately acted upon by all representatives.

Regardless of which method is chosen, all participants must do the following:

1.         All media outlets  (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, newspapers such as the Sun Times,  Star, Tribune, Daily Herald in the Chicago,   or Regional Illinois area, radio talk shows, etc., whatever communication outlet that uses websites or blog article commentary after an article is posted), and all in the immediate coverage area must be researched.  A log in name and email should be developed for each media entity and entered to save time when the need arises.

2.         Log-in names can be real or imagined.  Ex:  “.John Q Public” “Steve Hart” “Chris Gaut” or “Robert Smith”.

3.         Emails may need to be chosen other than the association emails.  No Fire Department names are recommended,  you should always reference your particular fire service association membership.

4.         Several different names can be chosen. Keep a log of names and passwords for each media outlet!

When an anti-fire sprinkler article is discovered you need to immediately post a positive fire sprinkler comment or rebut an anti-fire sprinkler comment, then the IFSA residential committee  needs to be immediately notified by text, email and/or phone call. A determination can then be made to have a local response or an all-out statewide  effort. Responses must be made immediately so that “ours”  the pro-fire sprinkler response is the first response. The responses and commentary can be as long as necessary or to have the positive response be the overwhelming positive response and, if at all positive, after it tapers away, to be the last response.

TALKING POINT EXAMPLES

FEMA’s America Burning…The USFA United States Fire Administration American Burning, Recommissioned Report recommends fire sprinklers.

Report finding #2- The application and use of sprinkler technology.  “The most effective fire loss prevention and reduction measure with respect to both life and property is the installation and maintenance of fire sprinklers.”

FEMA’s Firefighter LifeSafety Summit…The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Firefighters life safety summit developed a national program to reduce firefighter line of duty deaths,   The summit developed 16 initiatives aimed at achieving a 25% reduction in firefighter fatalities over the next 5 years,   and a 50% reduction over the next ten years,  including #15  “strengthen advocacy for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers”.

Nonprofit Urges Huntley: Reconsider Making Sprinklers Mandatory in Homes

Issue of sprinklers in single-family residences resurfaces after a fatal fire last week.

Photos

Huntley Fire Protection District firefighters gave an example of what a flashover fire is during a training session Friday at the Ruth Training Center in Huntley.

Within minutes, flames overtook the inside of a small trailer mocked up to look like someone’s living room.

A second trailer nearby was set ablaze but this fire was out within seconds thanks to an indoor sprinkler system. The sprinklers prevented a flashover from occurring and causing damage to property or lives.

It was a flashover that firefighters fought in Friday's residential fire, which killed a 73-year-old man from Sun City Huntley.

A sprinkler would have helped save the man, a spokesman with the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board said.

Last week’s fire is a tragic reminder of the important role that fire sprinklers play in protecting lives and preventing such tragedies, said Tom Lia, the board’s executive director.

There are homes in Huntley equipped with residential fire sprinklers, thanks to a 2005 ordinance village officials passed. The ordinance, however, was rescinded in 2007, Lia said. Homes built since 2007 are not required to have residential sprinklers.

“The fire represents what could happen in some of the new homes that have been built since the ordinance was removed, and it shows the need for reinstatement of the ordinance,” Lia said.

Residential Sprinklers an Issue

Friday’s fire is a representation of the bigger picture, Lia said.

Lia works with the advisory board, a nonprofit organization based in Orland Park, to promote legislation and raise public awareness for enacting residential sprinkler ordinances.

Seventy-four fire districts or departments in Illinois require residential fire sprinklers, including Huntley Fire Protection District, Lia said. The district’s area includes Huntley, a portion of Algonquin and Lake in the Hills. The fire district has had a residential fire sprinkler ordinance in place since July 2004, he said.

“We support residential sprinklers, we feel it’s an effective way to save lives and property but each community needs to decide what kind of fire codes to have,” Huntley Fire Protection District Chief James Saletta said. “Most communities do not have a fire sprinkler ordinance.”

Huntley continues to require that developers install residential sprinkler systems in townhomes and has one of the strongest ordinances around, Village Manager Dave Johnson said.

“We still have the strictest requirements around,” Johnson said. “We require it in all townhomes which is not the case in many communities. We’ve had that for a long time.”

Huntley passed an ordinance in 2005 that required residential sprinklers in all townhomes and single-family homes, Johnson said. In 2007, the ordinance changed to exclude single-family homes, he said.

There were upward of 1,000 homes built in that two-year period with residential sprinklers, he said. While Huntley officials changed the 2005 ordinance, it did require developers offer residential sprinklers as an option for prospective homeowners, he said.

“It was a decision the board at that time looked at as an option as oppose to being mandatory,” Johnson said. “I think there was concern being expressed about the cost. The original estimates weren’t as costly as it ended up being.”

There also were concerns about malfunctioning sprinklers, he said. “I think that was where it was determined the purchaser of the home can make that decision.”

Builders must submit a sales rider prior to a building permit issuance to make sure buyers are offered the opportunity to purchase fire sprinklers in new single-family homes, Johnson said.

He said residential fire sprinklers are required in townhomes — it is not optional for builders or homeowners.

Revisiting the Issue

While the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board is encouraging Huntley to revisit its 2005 ordinance due to last week’s fire, there are no plans to do so.

Johnson said he is meeting with the chief soon, and it is something the village needs to evaluate. The staff may forward the issue to the board.

Meanwhile, Huntley firefighters continue to spread the message of fire safety through public education and fire safety checks, Saletta said.

Comments

RMG

That accident is so so sad, my sincere condolences go to his family...however really must we take it to the extreme. Smoke alarms work. One fire does not a life changing cost make for others. Do you know the damage those things do if one goes off by accident, its a mess. How many fires have we really had around Huntley over the years? Lets not go nuts here. People can hardly pay their tax's these days let along put in a sprinkling system, next you'll make security systems mandatory because we've had some break in's. Lets think about this!

Kevin

Really, at what point, how many lives, does this begin to make sense then? This a long range solution. In 50 years how many lives could be saved by making this manditory, what if it was one every 5 years, 10 lives. For 40 or so dollars a month on your mortgage. If a sprinkler system costs 7000 to install that is what it means to your mortgage! Next to your security system, it is property, which can be replaced, lives cannot. How much do you think his family will miss him over the next 10 years? Lets think about this!

tom lia

Our prayers go our to the fire deaths victim and his family, we are also glad that the Huntley firefighter was not burned severly. Right now there are 50 Illinois communities that have more restrictive requirements than Huntley on a ranking based on codes passed and fire sprinkler thresholds, and 74 communities have adopted residential fire sprinkler requirements already before they were in the model codes. Both NFPA and the ICC ( international code council ) have had these safety needs in their codes for two code cycles already. Did the sales slow in Sun City when the 1,000 homes were fire sprinkler protected? Those people have peace of mind and reductions in theire fire insurance from 5% to 20%. No one is saying retrofit, but leave the safety feature in the codes for all future construction when the time comes to adopt a new code. Check out FEMA's and USFA recomendations. Good Luck, I hope there are not more fires, tom lia

Jim Eriksen

My prayers and thoughts go out to the family for this most unfortunate accident. I think the question that is lerking behind the scene is, "Why did Huntley change their original ordiance"? Because of possible leaks......what proof is there? Fire sprinkler systems are subjected to much more restrictive tests then domestic plumbing. Certainly the Village must have records to prove that these fire sprinkler systems were failing, or do they? A single activated sprinkler head may have been the difference in this story.

Robert Buhs

My condolences to the family and friends of the deceased. Tragic as it is, residential sprinklers with working smoke detectors may have saved this individuals life. I guess we will never know for sure.
In regard to local governments adopting and enforcing building and life safety codes, it is their responsibility to do so. Like it or not, the codes that are mandated by local governments are to ensure that all structures built in their community are in compliance to industry standards for the purpose of reducing the buyers risk to substandard building materials and installation that may cause their home to depreciate in value or cause a family member to be injured or killed. All the buyer wants is a home that provides security and safety for their family. They have no idea about building codes or the like and they depend on the local government to ensure the home is within code. I know for a fact and was told by my builder that my new home meets all the latest codes and approved for occupancy by the local government official. The bottom line is this, I’m not one for big government but this is one area of responsibly that is justifiable even if it includes mandating any fire detection or suppression systems in structures along with any other code improvements to ensure that my home retains its value and is safe to live in.

Jack Nance

Jack Nance The chance of accidental fire sprinkler discharge is 1 in 16 million. That certainly would not be a reason for repeal of the ordinance. Fire sprinklers protect property and lives. This benefits a healthy individual or family when they are awake or asleep. Infants, the elderly and the disabled are the individuals who are not able to exit a burning home and they are greatly in need of fire sprinklers.

C.F.D. John

As a fireman for 30 years I have been a witness to several fire related deaths. Most of these occurred within feet from a exit. Building codes are "minimal standards" Why must we continue to think that minimal is good enough. I believe we should build to a greater standard when life safety is in question. Fire Sprinklers are for saving lives. Smoke detectors are old technology and really have not changed for years. Lets move in the direction of better systems for our family.

Patrick Kenny

Isn't it a shame that a family has to endure a tragedy for the topic of residential fire sprinklers to raise to the surface? In this case a family is devastated from an event that may have been preventable. We react to the tragedy rather than be proactive about the solution. Smoke detectors are required by state law whereas sprinklers are not. The homes of today, as opposed to those built 50 years ago, pose a hazard of a small fire escalating into an atmosphere where residents of the home cannot survive rapidly due to the abundance of plastics. In some cases by the time the smoke detector activates and alerts the residents; they may not have time to escape. Huntley is to be applauded, both from the elected officials to the Fire District leadership, regarding their insightful enactment of the sprinkler ordinance in 2005. In addition the fact that the ordinance remained specific to town homes is also commendable. What needs to be challenged is why single family homes were taken out in 2007? That flies in the face of the national statistics that show both civilian and fire service injuries and deaths occur most often in single family dwellings. I would encourage the elected officials to seek the facts, not myths (leaking, prohibitive costs, etc.) about the benefit to your constituents of sprinkler systems from your respected Fire Chief. Lets avert another tragedy by being proactive and reinstitute the single-family dwelling provision.

Tara Grimes

The demonstration put on Friday can be seen in this video: http://huntley.patch.com/articles/elected-officials-trade-in-suit-and-tie-for-firefighting-gear#video-8366683 (1:11) It shows what a flashover fire is like and what happens in a residential fire when a sprinkler goes off.

SUMMARY

There is a great need to have a forum to ensure free, positive fire sprinkler education and information. The battle of the minds of the public who use electronic media needs to be fought and won by these media forums using facts from nationally recognized fire safety organizations.

The system must receive information and quote articles and reports that are beyond refute, and the response must be quick and overwhelming.

The process is FREE and it uses existing structure, personnel and data sources. It enables the entire fire service to  participate.  In this way, we are all able to provide a means of defending and protecting and promoting the new code effort of the state fire marshal. .

So, what are we waiting for?        Tom  Lia   NIFSAB

I suggest we collect our documents and reports,  start highlighting certain important facts and have them all ready to work into your commentary.   We will start to work on a SOP for this and have it for anyone who wants to use it.   TL

Attached Reports:

NFPA – The Case for Fire Sprinkler in 1 or 2 Family

NFPA Educational Messages 2011 Edition

NFPA 2010 U.S. Fire Loss Clock

FEMA America Burning

NFPA Fire In the U.S. 2010

NFPA Talk About Home Fire Sprinklers

NFPA Talking Points

NFPA Home Fire Sprinkler Facts & Myths

NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative – Bring Safety Home Fact Sheet

Oppose Anti-Fire Sprinkler Legislation

NFPA Overview of U.S. Fire Problems

Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment Insurance Info

NFPA Home Fire Sprinkler Facts vs. Myths

NFPA Home Fire Sprinkler Talking Points

HFSC Talking Points

HFSC Frequently Asked Questions

HFSC Separating Fact From Fiction

USFA Position Paper Residential Fire Sprinklers

Talking Points for "Winning the Media War"

  • Fire sprinklers are supplied by household water - usually off the water main.  Just like ordinary plumbing, sprinkler system piping is hidden behind walls and ceilings.

  • The sprinklers are positioned along the piping and can be seen in ceilings or up high along certain walls.

  • Sprinklers are activated only by the high temperature of a fire - typically between 135◦ - 165◦F.

  • Burned toast or other smoke cannot set off a sprinkler; neither can a smoke alarm that activates.

  • Sprinklers are designed to flow between 10-25 gallons of water per minute.  That's about 10-15 times less water flow than fire department hoses, and under far less pressure.

  • By operating while a fire is still small, a sprinkler controls or extinguishes a fire slowing the spread of poisonous smoke and deadly heat.

  • That fast and effective action gives family members more time to get out safely, saving lives.

  • And, the sprinkler confines the fire damage so that surrounding rooms are protected, saving valuables.