The latest fire loss data from the National Fire Protection Association underscore the continuing need for installing contractors and suppliers to steadfastly advance the delivery of life-safety services and equipment to protect lives and property.
Firefighters responded to 1,331,500 fires in the United States in 2010, according to data received by NFPA from fire departments answering its annual National Fire Experience Survey. Among all reported fires, 482,000 occurred in structures, a slight uptick of .3% compared to the previous year. About 384,000 fires or 80% of all structure fires occurred in residential properties, an increase of 1.9%. Of these blazes, 279,000 happened in one- and two-family homes, accounting for nearly 58% of all structure fires. An additional 90,500 occurred in apartments.
Loss of life also crept higher in 2010. Fires claimed the lives of 3,120 civilians, an increase of 3.7%. Notably, home fires caused 2,640 or 85% of all civilian fire deaths. That marked an increase of 2.9% compared to 2009. The statistics reinforce the stark irony that the vast majority of deaths occur in homes, the places where people often feel the safest, says Lorraine Carli, vice president of communications for NFPA.
“We have made tremendous progress in reducing the fire problem in the United States since we began looking at these numbers in the late 1970s,” she says. “But this report shows us that more must be done to bring the numbers down even further.”
It is in that larger context that SSI publishes its annual Fire Market Report to keep fire/life-safety professional abreast of key trends, technologies, codes and other factors currently affecting the marketplace. This year we’ll delve into residential fire sprinklers, carbon monoxide (CO) detection regulations, false fire alarm activity and more.
Home Fire Sprinkler Advocacy
During the first week in April, fire service professionals and safety advocates from across the nation gathered in Chicago for a one-day summit to promote a singular mission: the installation of fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes.
Fire sprinkler supporters are in for a tough, extended battle to achieve their mission; a bevy of deep-pocketed opponents are fighting their efforts vigorously on local, regional and national levels. Yet NFPA President Jim Shannon told the gathering in Chicago its work would be unwaveringly supported through the NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative, which was launched in 2009.
“We knew right from the start that we were going to run into opposition, especially from homebuilders, who have a great deal of influence and seasoned lobbyists working on their behalf,” he told the gathering. “And we knew that they would fiercely oppose our efforts to get states to require sprinklers. But we are not discouraged because the logic of our efforts will ultimately prevail.”
Among opponents’ litany of contentions, they maintain the expense for home fire sprinklers will make housing unaffordable, especially for first-time buyers. Advocates cite a 2008 cost assessment study by the NFPA-sponsored Fire Protection Research Foundation, which said the price tag of installing home fire sprinklers averages $1.61 per square foot for new construction. The total cost, according to the foundation, is similar to what people are willing to pay for carpet upgrades , a paving-stone driveway or a whirlpool bath.
So far in 2012, opponents have lobbied lawmakers in several states to introduce bills that would prohibit jurisdictions from including one- and two-family dwelling fire sprinkler requirements in the adopted codes. Among them are Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
All but 17 states have at least one local jurisdiction that has adopted home fire sprinkler requirements. However, advocates have celebrated a few key victories at the state level as well. In 2010, California adopted the International Residential Code (IRC), including its requirements for automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one- and two-family dwellings, effective Jan. 1, 2011. The same 2009 IRC is effective in Maryland, and South Carolina voted to adopt it as well but the requirement was delayed until 2014 by legislative action.
While prolonged advocacy and code adoption are expected to spur overall growth in commercial and home fire sprinklers, this particular line of work remains mostly a rarity for traditional security installing contractors. According to SSI’s 2011 Installation Business Report, about 3% of installing security firms are involved in sprinkler systems.
There are recent indications in the marketplace, however, that suggest some traditional security contractors see opportunity in sprinkler systems. Take, for example, acquisitions of fire service companies made in the past couple of years by such firms as Select Security of Lancaster, Pa., and Safeguard Security of Scottsdale, Ariz. The proprietors at each firm say a large part of their focus is on providing test and inspection services, plus certifying that end-user systems meet and comply with NFPA fire code standards — all of which generates recurring revenue.
After he acquired Fire Systems Inc. (FSI) in 2010, Select Security President Pat Egan said he became one of the first installing security and monitoring businesses to operate a fire sprinkler division. Pennsylvania would later repeal its residential sprinkler law, dampening Select’s prospects for the time being in that market niche, but Egan says the division continues to evolve and grow. Cases in point: Select just received a sprinkler contract for 14 townhouses, and it continues to reap success in renovation projects, such as restaurants and strip malls.