Recent fires with buildings under construction have caught the attention of our nation. Fire is fast. These fires have shown just that, and should cause us all to realize how vulnerable we can be and how devastating fire can be.
Five days ago, Raleigh, North Carolina experienced a 5-Alarm fire that destroyed apartments under construction. This fire started around 10:00 p.m. in an unoccupied apartment complex in the center of a major urban city. The entire building where the fire started was destroyed. The fire extended to ten other adjacent buildings. While there was significant damage to the exteriors of the buildings, the majority were saved from destruction because of the buildings' construction features. All the contents were saved because the buildings had properly installed and maintained fire sprinkler systems.
Two days ago, Overland Park, Kansas experienced an 8-Alarm fire in an apartment building under construction. This fire also impacted the community and reminded us that fire is fast, and modern fire dynamics warrant research and a commitment to find the solution that will prevent such events from occurring.
According to our contractor members nationwide, and current available construction data, there are projects similar to these under construction in almost every growing major city in America. Fires that occur during construction prior to the completion of all the fire and life safety components are much more significant than if buildings are completed and functional to the latest codes and standards.
On a daily basis, the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) shares many nationwide incidents where fire sprinklers keep the fire in check until firefighters arrive, as they did in other buildings during these recent incidents. Fire sprinklers save lives and property.
While as devastating as the Raleigh and Overland Park fires were, according to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), 44 people died in homes across the country during the week of these fires. The NFSA and our members have shared more success stories where fire sprinklers have kept the fire in check while people escaped and until the firefighters arrived.
Most movies depict all fire sprinklers going off at the same time, which is untrue. In 96% of all fires, because they are each individually heat activated, fire sprinklers keep the fire small by activation of only the fire sprinkler closest to the fire.
The NFSA is being proactive and asking our Engineering & Standards Committee to work with other industries, as we have in the past, to see how we can get our property conservation and life safety systems in place sooner in the construction process.
"I am confident we can all come together for a solution," said NFSA President Shane Ray. "I am a believer that we can find solutions to problems when we all work together. Our industry has an impeccable record of saving lives and property, which it did in both of these incidents. We also believe we can help minimize these incidents in the future."
The fires in Raleigh and Overland Park should be significantly studied for the overall impact on the community, the economy, and those involved. This shouldn't end with the investigation into what caused the fire. The key should be to prevent similar incidents from occurring again. If they can't be totally prevented, a solution should be found so the fire can it be mitigated, so as to not impact the entire community.