Home Fire Sprinklers

Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg Retrofitted His House with Home Fire Sprinklers

Home fire sprinkler systems are effective in saving lives, reducing injuries, and minimizing property damage caused by a fire in the home. This page is designed to give you information about residential structure fires and the value of residential fire sprinklers. Click on the picture to see Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg's story about retrofitting his house with a home fire sprinkler system and the videos for more information.

Home Fire Sprinklers:

  • Save lives. It is designed to ensure a tenable atmosphere for escape.
  • Combined with the recommended number of smoke alarms increases the chance of surviving a fire by over 97%.
  • Is like having a firefighter 24/7 with an immediate response time.
  • Controls fires that occur in homes 90% of the time with just one sprinkler head activating.
  • Controls fires with approximately 1/10 of the water usage compared to firefighting efforts.
  • Reduces the average property loss by 74% per fire.
  • Usually gives you a 5-15% homeowners insurance savings.

Statistics:

Side-by-Side Bedroom Burn Demonstration
Click to See Side-by-Side Fire Sprinkler/Flashover Demonstration
  • Each day 7 people die in United States home fires
  • On average each year in the United States, 2,500 to 3,000 people die and more than 13,000 people are injured in home fires.
  • Fire kills more people each year in the United States than all natural disasters combined.
  • In 2010, 92% of fire deaths occurred in homes.
  • Each year approximately 100 firefighters die in the line of duty and tens of thousands are injured. Many of the firefighter fatalities and injuries are related to fighting residential structure fires.

Consider the Following:

Marble Mountain
Click to See Bedroom Fire Demonstration
  • Children under the age of 5 are 1 1/2 times more likely to die in a home fire as the general public.
  • Adults 75 years or older are nearly 3 times more likely to die in a home fire as the general public.
  • Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns.
  • More than one of every three (36%) fatal fire victims never wakes up before being injured.
  • More than two of every five (43%) people injured (but not killed) in home fires were trying to fight the fire or rescue someone when they were injured.
  • Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths. Cooking is the primary cause of residential fires and the leading cause of civilian fire injuries.
  • Fire is the most costly insurance claim locally.

Answers to Common Questions:

Do residential fire sprinkler systems really save lives?

Yes. The evidence on this point is overwhelming. For instance, Napa California and Cobb County Georgia mandated residential fire sprinkler systems. There has not been a single residential fire fatality in a residence with a sprinkler system since the inception of their fire sprinkler programs. There has not been a single fire fatality in Prince George's County, Maryland (ordinance enacted 1986) in homes protected with sprinkler systems. There has not been a single fire fatality in Scottsdale, Arizona (ordinance enacted in 1992) in homes protected with sprinkler systems.

Case Studies:

Scottsdale, AZ (15-year study)

  • Over 50% of houses fire sprinklered
  • No fatalities in sprinklered homes; 13 lives saved
  • 13 fatalities in unprotected homes
  • Over $20 million in property loss prevented
  • Average fire loss was:
    • $2,166 in fire sprinklered residences
    • $45,019 in non-fire sprinklered residences

Prince George’s County, MD (15-year study)

Homes Protected by Fire Sprinklers

  • 245 activations with 446 people present at incident
  • Lives Lost: 0
  • Injuries Reported: 6 (all minor in nature)
  • Average loss per incident: $4,883
  • Total fire loss: $1,352,820
  • Potential fire loss: $42,578,420
Homes Not Protected by Fire Sprinklers
  • Lives Lost: 101
  • Injuries Reported: 328
  • Average Fire Loss per Incident: $ 9,983
  • Average Loss per Fatal Fire Incident: $ 49,503
The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) compared sprinklered and non-sprinklered homes over a period of time and concluded houses equipped with smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system experienced 100% fewer civilian fatalities, 57% fewer civilian injuries, and 32% less direct property losses and indirect costs resulting from fire than homes equipped only with smoke alarms.

Aren't home fire sprinkler systems expensive?
The national average for new construction is $1.35 per square foot of living area. The Medford average for new construction is $1.49 per square foot of living area. Here are some other facts:
  • The cost works out to be about 1 to 1 ½% of total building cost
  • The cost is about the same as upgrading carpet, except fire sprinklers last for the life of the home
  • The cost amortized over 30 years works out to approximately $5-10 per month - about the price of a couple of mochas or a large popcorn at the movie theaters per month
  • The cost decreases when sprinklers are mandated
  • Installing a multipurpose plumbing/fire sprinklers system decreases the cost
Aren't smoke alarms enough?

No. While functioning smoke alarms do save lives, they may not be enough to prevent tragedy. Consider the following statistics:
  • 40% of fire deaths were in homes with working smoke alarms.
  • Smoke alarms are missing in 2/3 of deadly residential fires.
  • In a study completed in 2006, only 58 percent of a test group of children ages 6-12 awakened when a standard smoke alarm sounded; only 38 percent of the test group successfully evacuated.
If a fire occurs while you are sleeping and you have no warning, the smoke and toxic gasses put you into a deeper sleep until you die. If you are awaken by a working smoke alarm during a fast growing fire, you might be fortunate to have a matter of seconds between when the detector alarms and the atmosphere becomes unsurvivable. During the escape, the smoke is often so heavy that you cannot see your hand in front of you. You must crawl in darkness to safety. Residential sprinklers are designed to control the fire before the atmosphere becomes unsurvivable. A residential fire sprinkler system, combined with smoke alarms, significantly increases the occupant’s chance of surviving a home fire. Whereas smoke alarms are essential to provide an occupant an early warning signal to evacuate the home, they do not control the fire. Residential fire sprinklers control the fire in the earliest stage, which provides the occupant a much greater chance of survival.

Aren't there inherent built-in features that make newer houses safer?
Whether or not a house is new ignores the fact that the fuel load inside the house drives the fire. Studies have shown that most fire victims (75 percent to 80 percent) die from carbon monoxide poisoning, and that most of these people die remote from the room of fire origin. Modern furniture presents a huge fuel load, loaded with materials such as polyurethane foam which burns like gasoline. Room flashover (unsurvivable conditions) times of 3-5 minutes after ignition are not unusual. Victims in the room of origin are affected about half way to flashover because this is when the temperature, smoke and carbon monoxide make the room untenable to life. If there is still someone anywhere in a home when flashover occurs, it is highly unlikely they will survive.

While some features may make newer structures safer, other features do not. Smoke alarms can be disabled and, when exposed to fire, modern composite lightweight construction can suffer structural failure faster than conventional lumber.

An occupant’s survival is directly related to the evacuation capability of the occupant while conditions are still tenable in the structure. Young children and elderly people are 2-4 times more at risk of dying in homes fires as they have reduced evacuation capabilities. Fire sprinklers control the fire while it is still small, thereby giving everyone, regardless of evacuation capability, a chance to survive. By controlling the fire early, fire sprinklers provide the added benefit of reducing firefighter risks and property loss.

Aren't fire sprinklers ugly?
There are now a variety of residential sprinkler heads including concealed heads, which are hidden until they drop down upon activation. Also, all residential sprinklers can be factory painted to match ceiling and wall colors.

What about water damage?
The scenes in Hollywood showing all the sprinkler heads activating at the same time throughout, flooding an entire building, are misleading. It takes heat to activate a sprinkler head (155-200 degrees F). 93% of all fires that occur in homes are quickly controlled by a single sprinkler head. Without fire sprinklers, the fire continues to grow exponentially. The fire department arrives 5-10 minutes later and puts hundreds to thousands of gallons on the out-of-control fire. A fire which escapes early detection and suppression takes far more water to extinguish, and the uncontrolled fire destroys much of the contents in the house. Tests conducted by the Los Angeles Fire Department and the U.S. Fire Administration showed that damage caused by water in a sprinklered fire is substantially less than damage caused by fire department hose streams in an identical unsprinklered fire. Other studies have shown residential fire sprinkler systems use 8-11 times less water than water applied through suppression efforts by responding firefighters. Loss records of Factory Mutual Research show that the probability of a sprinkler discharging accidentally due to a manufacturing defect is only 1 in 16 million sprinklers per year in service.

Additional Department Information

Fire and Life Safety Department Contacts

Medford Fire-Rescue Fire & Life Safety Division
200 South Ivy Street, Room #180
Medford, OR 97501
Phone: (541) 774-2300
Fax: (541) 774-2514
Contact: Deputy Chief - Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg
Email:
Hours: 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM

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