2012 Fire Market Report: Making Homes Safer Havens

A look at residential fire sprinkler and false fire alarm activity trends offer installing system contractors insights on the latest developments driving the marketplace. SSI‘s annual report also provides legislative and code updates for carbon monoxide detection.

<p>An estimated 2,640 civilians died in residential fires during 2010, an increase of 2.9%. Of these deaths, 440 took place in apartment fires, a 5.4% decline from the previous year. Another 2,200 died in one- and two-family dwellings, an increase of 4.8%. “Homes” include dwellings, duplexes, manufactured homes (mobile homes), apartments, rowhouses, townhouses and condominiums. Other residential properties, such as hotels, motels, dormitories, barracks, and rooming and boarding homes are not included. Source: National Fire Protection Asssociation (NFPA).</p>Select Security has also started cross-training its alarm technicians to perform backflow certifications for sprinkler check valves, along with what Egan refers to as “emergency response” services, such as valve shutdowns and leak stoppages.

“We are very big on the business. It has all the elements of recurring revenue. We do the renovations, the emergency repairs and we do the certifications and inspections as required by code,” he says. “That is really where the profit is.”

The Rise of CO Detection

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional CO exposure accounts for an estimated 15,000 emergency room visits and 500 deaths in the United States each year. Moreover, because symptoms fro
m exposure to CO are similar to the flu, injuries and deaths are thought to be greatly underreported, and actual deaths may exceed 2,000.

In recent years, an increasing emphasis on legislating CO detection has been pursued by industry stakeholders. Nearly 40 states have adopted requirements, either by statute or code, mandating the installation of CO detection devices in single-family homes, multifamily dwellings or other residential structures and commercial buildings. These initiatives have resulted in the growth in CO alarm and detector use since the mid-1990s, and are credited for helping reduce related injuries and deaths.

A principal supporter of CO alarm and detection requirements is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), which advocates at all levels of government. NEMA recently released the first edition of its “SB 7 NEMA Applications Guide for Carbon Monoxide Alarms and Detectors,” geared for systems designers and installers, among other professionals who perform test and inspection services.

The guide, developed by NEMA’s Signaling Protection and Communications Section (3-SB), is intended to meet the rising need to educate a greater number of installing contractors on proper application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing and maintenance of CO detection devices.

During a podcast hosted by NEMA in March, Richard Roberts, industry affairs manager for Honeywell Life Safety and Co-Chair of the NEMA 3SB Smoke/CO Group, said the number of jurisdictions requiring CO detection is projected to increase during the next three to five years.

A significant factor in the projected increase is due, in part, to the 2012 edition of the IRC, among other codes, which contain provisions for the installation of CO detection in one- and two-family dwellings and commercial sleeping occupancies.

“The application guide explains the operational differences between alarms and detectors and covers their location requirements,” Roberts says. “It also covers some of the specific requirements of CO detection systems such as which types of control panels are permissible; specifies when building occupant notification is not required; and reviews the secondary power requirements for CO detection systems.”

Some of the material contained in the guide was extracted from NFPA 720, “Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detection and Warning Equipment.” Along with and NFPA 720, other leading standards for CO devices are ANSI/UL 2034 and ANSI/UL 2075.

Despite previous efforts by industry stakeholders, passing a national standard that incentivizes states to promote CO detection remains an elusive goal. However, the Security Industry Association (SIA) says it remains committed to the work. Joined by several other groups, SIA is currently supporting bipartisan legislation reintroduced in Congress to increase the use of CO alarms.

The bill (H.R. 4326) is similar to legislation that was approved by the House of Representatives in the previous session of Congress, which stalled in the Senate. If adopted, the bill would establish a grant program to encourage states to enact a rule or law requiring all dwelling units and apartment buildings to have CO alarms.

States with greater than average fatalities from CO poisoning and those serving vulnerable populations, such as children or seniors, would be given priority. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which would administer the grant program, only 35% to 50% of U.S. households have CO alarms. 

(For more detailed information related to CO and life safety, see “Fire Side Chat” column.)

Curse of False Fire Alarms

The issue of false alarms always has a prominent place in any discussion about alarm and detection systems, and fire/life safety is no exception.

According to a study conducted by NFPA, U.S. fire departments responded to roughly 2,187,000 false alarms in 2010, which marked a slight decrease of .4% compared to the previous year. That indicates one out of 10 calls responded to by fire departments were false alarms.

The aggregate of all false fire alarms included dispatches for 708,500 system malfunctions or 32.4%. “Unintentional” calls accounted for the most false alarms at 45.3%; followed by “other (bomb scares, etc.)” at 14.8%, and “malicious, mischievous” at 7.5%.

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About the Author


Although Bosch’s name is quite familiar to those in the security industry, his previous experience has been in daily newspaper journalism. Prior to joining SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION in 2006, he spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Times, where he performed a wide assortment of editorial responsibilities, including feature and metro department assignments as well as content producing for latimes.com. Bosch is a graduate of California State University, Fresno with a degree in Mass Communication & Journalism. In 2007, he successfully completed the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s National Training School coursework to become a Certified Level I Alarm Technician.

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