Residential Fire Sprinklers

Why Should I Include a Fire Sprinkler System in My New Home?
[Top Three Reasons]

The Fire Department is not as fast as you may think (or need).

The Centre Region is fortunate to have a prompt, well staffed, and well equipped volunteer fire department. Even so it is difficult for any fire department, career or volunteer, to respond and begin operations prior to a fire gaining a solid foothold in a building and doing significant damage. Smoke from a fire is lethal. Studies of burning buildings have been conducted by NIST and UL to explain why seemingly healthy adults are unable to escape burning buildings and dying in these fires. In our modern world, smoke from fires contains lethal amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide (in addition to many other dangerous substances). These fire studies have concluded that you only have 2 to 4 minutes to escape an established fire. 

The objective for any fire department is to arrive and conduct operations prior to the fire reaching flashover. Flashover is the point at which a fire has fully developed, is burning freely, and is ready to move throughout a structure. In a modern home, flashover can occur anywhere from three to eleven minutes after a fire starts. Once a flashover occurs, usually within a single room, significant damage has been done throughout the home due to smoke and heat. Left unchecked, the fire will move quickly and additional rooms will subsequently flashover. Flashover conditions are not survivable, even for a properly dressed firefighter. 

Consider the probable time line for a fire incident in the Centre Region (Alpha, best case scenario):
     - Fire Discovered by home occupant/call to 911: 0.5 minute
     - Centre County 911 actually dispatches FD: 2.0 minutes
     - Fire Department responds: 1.0 minute
     - Fire Department travel to scene (2.5 miles): 4.5 minutes
     - Fire Department arrives/deploys/starts firefighting: 1.0 minute

The time model presented here assumes favorable weather and a full complement of volunteers in the station at the time of the call. It also assumes that someone is home to discover the fire and the fire is promptly reported. Even with these favorable conditions, in the time it takes the fire department to arrive and begin operations at a home not far from a fire station the fire has already been given the upper hand.

Insurance cannot replace everything of value to you.

Many people believe that since they are insured, they will not ultimately incur a meaningful loss. Any person who has experienced a significant fire can tell you that this is not the case. The items that make a house a home are often irreplaceable. Consider the items in your home such as family photographs, heirlooms, original art, vacation souvenirs, and gifts. In many cases, in addition to losing items that cannot be replaced, people often find themselves underinsured for special items such as art, coin or stamp collections, jewelry, and computers. By keeping a fire small or extinguishing it outright prior to the fire department’s arrival, these losses are mitigated.

Yes, It can happen to you. [Be careful how statistics are used.]

There is no debate that fire deaths have decreased in the United States over the past ten years and that the number of severe fires has similarly decreased. The reduction in deaths and severity are due to many factors including the presence of smoke detectors alerting occupants or central alarm stations to fires while they are still small, improved building codes providing better window access/egress, and the presence of sprinkler systems, particularly in multifamily dwellings.

With regard to single family dwellings, an argument is often made that because statistics show decreases in fire deaths and severity, homeowners are not at great risk and sprinklers are simply not needed. There are a number of problems with this logic. The total number of fires in one and two family has remained fairly flat over the past ten years; no decrease in fire incidents while fire deaths in one and two family dwellings has declined at about half the rate of multifamily dwellings. It is unclear that the available, aggregated data accurately reflects the experience of single family dwellings.

Perhaps most important is the basis of nationwide fire data. The fire data still reflects a broad range of housing stock that is built using conventional framing. That is not how houses are generally built today. Today’s houses are built of lightweight construction. They fail structurally three to five times earlier than their conventionally framed counterparts. This fact is expected to significantly alter the statistical loss experience of the future, and therein lies a most important point. To use statistics to accurately predict the future two things must be true: the data must be mathematically normal and the conditions under which the data is collected must be the same. Modern, lightweight construction exhibits very different behavior when involved in fire compared to conventional framing. With these very different data conditions, it is not statistically sound to use today’s available data to predict the loss risk of tomorrow’s new home.


Please give us a call at 814-237-4127 or email the Fire Director: Thank you for taking the time to make an informed decision.

The Debate about Residential Fire Sprinklers A four page article from the August 2011 Public Management magazine