By Becki White
As an adult, there are two major purchases you’ll probably make. For those purchases, you do a fair amount of research, but since there is so much to learn, you may defer to the “experts” for the facts you need. One of those purchases is a car; the other is a house. As you repeat the process throughout your life, probably upgrading each time, your perspective may change between each purchase.
The first time you buy a car, your priority might be appearance. Then you get married and have kids, and the focus becomes safety. After a while, comfort becomes a consideration, and appearance might move up the priority scale, but the safety focus doesn’t go away. You never downgrade on safety.
There are vehicle upgrades available that we put on hold as we consider what we can and cannot afford including leather interiors, heated seats, automatic start, media technology, and so on. These are all extras. There are many features we expect to be included like seat belts, air bags, curtain air bags, crumple zones, and so on. Those safety features are part of what sells the car; they aren’t priced out as amenities. If the sales person asked you to choose between air bags and heated leather seats, you would be outraged as a consumer. How dare he?
When we shop for the perfect home, we think about safety as well, but we think more about exterior safety rather than interior safety. We search out good neighborhoods that boast low crime rates. We look for good schools and good neighbors. Those are features listed in the sales package. We don’t often think about safety elements inside our homes that protect our families. Smoke alarms are a safety feature buyers would question if it weren’t there, but be honest, is it something you think about?
If you’re building a home, you will get a spec sheet of things that are included in your home and a long list of added amenities: granite countertops, large “soaker” bathtubs, and fire sprinkler systems might be on the list. Wait—a safety feature is listed as an extra expense? The information is delivered in a way that makes it necessary for the home builders to make a financial decision between installing granite countertops or including a sprinkler system. But we’re not outraged by that fact. Why is that?
Most consumers aren’t told that new homes are built with pressed wood and glue and gusset plates that are stamped on, with only a percentage of teeth that make contact with wood trusses. Homeowners are not educated on how quickly fire spreads in modern construction with open-room designs or on how smoke spreads throughout a home and how much smoke damage even a small fire can cause. Instead, they’re often quoted inflated prices for sprinkler systems and told about water damage and other problems—often straight-up false or wildly exaggerated information that prevents homeowners from opting for the safety of a sprinkler installation.
All over the U.S., debates on the topic of fire sprinkler systems are contentious. There are myths and facts being tossed about on both sides of the debate. It’s difficult to discern who is telling the truth, because you can find information that contradicts each point—with sources—when you search. Many times the people that are spreading the myths as fact believe those myths to be truth. They may not be intentionally misleading people, but rather they are sharing the information they know.
This is the fundamental truth I share with people: Fire sprinklers save lives. There are very, very few fire deaths that occur in structures protected by fire sprinkler systems. Most fire deaths take place where the victim is intimate with the fire, which means they were part of the fire origin. In those cases, you couldn’t expect a sprinkler system to protect them.
Without sprinklers, the odds of escape are diminished. Occupants typically have less than four minutes from the time of ignition to escape a fire, usually less time than it takes for the fire department to respond. On the other hand, a single sprinkler head will contain most fires, controlling the spread and allowing a family time to escape safely.
If you are buying a new or an existing home, educate yourself on your options. Protect your home and family with fire sprinkler systems in addition to smoke alarms because safety is a priority—and your life is more important than those heated leather seats!
Becki White is the assistant chief of training and prevention in the Eden Prairie (MN) Fire Department. She is currently enrolled in the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program. White is also vice president of the North Star Women’s Firefighter Association, a nonprofit organization that assists with mentoring, networking, and training women in the fire service.
More Becki White articles:
- How Does Your Department Get the Fish?
- Go Ahead, Size Me Up!
- Using Stories to Make Your Fire Messages Stick
- The True Meaning of Public “Education”
- Fires Don’t Just “Break Out”
- Reach Out to Your Community and Sound the Alarm