No Fire Sprinklers:13 Dead, Nearly 500 Homeless From 4 Fires In 11 Days

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The Editors's picture
No Fire Sprinklers:13 Dead, Nearly 500 Homeless From 4 Fires In 11 Days

A mother and her five children, ages 2 through 10, were killed in a fire at an extended-stay hotel in Benton Harbor, Michigan, on July 27.

 Several others were taken to the hospital with injuries from the fire at the Cosmo Extended Living Hotel, which was reported about 1:45 a.m. The hotel was built as a Howard Johnson in 1962.

  • Five more people died in an off-campus apartment fire in San Marcos, Texas on July 20; four were Texas State University students. At least 200 more residents were affected by the fire, which was reported about 4:30 a.m. at the Iconic Building Apartments. A student who survived is in the hospital with 3rd degree burns over 70 percent of his body. The apartments were built in the 1970s.
  • Two women died in an apartment fire in Westminister, Colo., on July 22. Fourteen more people were injured, some of whom had jumped from two- or three-story windows to escape the fire at the Westbury Apartments, which was reported at 2 a.m.
  • The apartments were built in the 1970s and fire sprinklers were not required.

Fire sprinklers buy time and save lives

“Most people don't realize how quickly fires spread in real life,” Shane Ray, President of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA), said in a release. “Smoke is so thick that you can't see, and flames can engulf a room in seconds.  Fires on TV and in movies don't show the real danger and they create myths about fire sprinklers; they don't all go off, only the one closest to the fire. Fire sprinklers buy time and time buys life.”

None of the buildings had fire sprinklers, which are required in new construction but not in existing buildings unless they are being extensively renovated. Nor did the River Trails Condominium complex in Prospect Heights, Ill., that left dozens homeless on July 18. Authorities believe that fire would also have caused fatalities if it had occurred at night, like the others did. River Trails was built in the 1970s.

Because of the lack of sprinklers, all the buildings were fully engulfed by the time firefighters arrived.

After a 2017 fire that killed three people in a residential tower in Honolulu, the Associated Press took a look at fire-sprinkler policies in major cities across the United States.

The policies vary widely – New York City requires sprinklers to be installed in older buildings that are 100 feet tall or more; Los Angeles requires sprinklers in residential buildings built before 1943 that are three stories or higher. Some cities require requires sprinklers in high-rise commercial towers, but not in residential buildings; Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco are some of these. Dallas does not require sprinklers, though city officials count 89 high-rise residential buildings in the city; 23 have partial sprinkler coverage.

Houston, San Antonio and San Jose are some of the few cities that require retrofitting of all residential buildings. San Diego had such a law but it was later taken out of the municipal code.

As inconsistent as requirements are in major cities, buildings in smaller cities or suburbs are even more unpredictable as to their sprinkler requirements. The safest thing to do, according to the NFSA, is to make sure that any apartment, condominium or hotel room you or your family stays in has a fire sprinkler system.

If you are staying or living in a place without fire sprinklers, the NFSA recommends these precautions:

  • Interconnected smoke alarms in common areas, in all bedrooms and on every level;
  • An escape plan, with two ways out from each bedroom;
  • Portable escape ladders in every bedroom above ground level.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says that myths about automatic fire sprinklers including thinking that smoke alarms provide enough protection, that they leak or activate accidentally, that when one activates all will activate, ruining items even in rooms that are not burning, or that they aren’t practical in colder climates, where pipes can freeze. None are true.

Resources:

The Associated Press

Detroit Free Press

KXAN, Austin, Texas

9News, Denver

National Fire Protection Association

National Fire Sprinkler Association

 

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