Just the other day a friend and I were discussing the merits of home fire sprinklers. He remarked how safe he felt because the apartment in which he was living had sprinklers installed. I told him that was great, but in my business, I have seen more individual property loss and loss of life in single family homes. Then I went off on a bit of a tirade about my belief fire sprinkler systems in everyone’s homes would save countless lives, protect our responders and limit the property damage caused by fires.
So, he asked me a couple of very valid questions: did the house I just sold, after living there for 10 years, have a home fire sprinkler system and did I plan to install sprinklers in the old house I am currently remodeling?
The answer to his first question was “no”. I just never got around to installing a sprinkler system in the first home.
The long answer to his second question is my current home was built in 1926. Its construction is not really conducive to the installation of a sprinkler system. Additionally, it is built of more fire-resistive heavy oak timber with plaster and brick walls, hardly the lightweight construction we see today.
But, we all know the purpose of the sprinkler system is to control home fires quickly, especially in homes possessing the fire load of modern home furnishings. Furnishings I have stocked my home full of.
So, the bottom line and short answer to both questions was “no my home does not have a fire sprinkler system”.
His response was “if you’re such a proponent to home sprinkler systems, why don’t you have one installed?” Insert long awkward pause here. Dang, don’t you hate it when you get caught?
By the way, his observation is a good one, which I will deal with in the future. And it got me thinking; as fire safety professionals, how often do we tell the public a message we don’t live ourselves?
We teach people to look for and know two ways out. We express our concern families are not doing exit drills in the home. We remind everyone to have a meeting place in case of a fire. But, do we practice these particular things at our own homes or while at the homes of friends and family we visit?
We rant about the importance of all homes having working smoke alarms and complain people tamper with them or even remove the batteries. Yet, how many of us have been guilty of pulling a smoke detector down when it goes off while we’re cooking or even removing the batteries in the middle of the night because of a nuisance alarm? Did we all “change our clocks and change our batteries”? Have we replaced those smoke alarms which are over ten years old?
Let’s take it one step further. In our responses to motor vehicle accidents, we have all seen the effects upon the vehicle’s occupants not wearing their seatbelts. Yet, when we climb into our patrol cars, ambulances or fire trucks, do we take the time to fasten our seatbelts?
I know right now many of you reading this are rationalizing your behavior. You’re justifying in your own minds the reasons why we don’t follow these same safety rules in our lives. Trust me, I know. I was doing the same thing when I was discussing home fire sprinklers with my friend. I was tap dancing around the fact I talk a good fight when it comes to fire prevention and safety and yet, I don’t always follow my own rules.
Perhaps, if we are going to talk the talk, it’s time we walk the walk. Our lives and the lives of our families are no less important than the lives we protect every day in our communities.
And while I don’t expect everyone to run out and install sprinklers in their homes, with the beginning of the New Year, I challenge myself and all of you to resolve to begin practicing the safety behaviors we preach and expect in others.
We all need to be role models in our community. We need to be able to answer the hard questions when we are asked. In short, we need to walk the walk.
Stay safe in this New Year and in all the years to come.
Acting State Fire Marshal