Fire in Newly Constructed Home Claims Life of Massachusetts Resident

Linthicum Heights, Maryland, UNITED STATES


Natick, MA, Jan. 28, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- On January 26th, a family, a community, a company, a public safety dispatcher, and the fire department experienced a tragedy because of a fast-moving fire in a Natick, Massachusetts home. This fire claimed the life of a male occupant. The fire broke out around 2 a.m. with a couple inside, both in different parts of the house.

Modern furnishings and open floor plans of modern homes have been tested in actual field settings and laboratory settings where fast-moving fires resulted, creating no visibility in the homes within a few minutes. Because of the fast-moving fire and heavy flames in the Natick home that firefighters encountered upon their initial arrival, they were unable to enter and the fire went to three alarms.

The home, which was constructed only two years ago, was likely built to the Massachusetts State Building Code as adopted by the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS). Essentially, this is where commercial and residential construction is regulated and this is where fire sprinklers should have been included in the code, not excluded, as they were.

In 2009, a requirement was added to the International Residential Code stating that all newly constructed one- and two-family homes must include fire sprinkler systems. This requirement has been retained in subsequent standards. Unfortunately, most states in the U.S., with the exception of Maryland, California and Washington D.C., leave out the fire sprinkler requirement when adopting building codes. Massachusetts is one of these states. Because of this, local governments aren’t allowed to determine what is best for local fire protection in the residential code.

“Despite the best efforts of our Public Safety Dispatch system and our fire department, the fire consumed the contents and spread throughout the structure within minutes,” explained Natick Fire Chief Michael Lentini. “These tragedies shouldn’t happen in new homes in our quaint community or anywhere in our Commonwealth. We know that fire sprinklers buy time for the occupants to escape and for fire departments to arrive. I hope this tragic event can bring decision-makers together to increase education and awareness of the danger of fire.”

"As President of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts (FCAM), I represent the Commonwealths Fire Chiefs. It's time to adopt the fire sprinkler requirements into the state building code," explained Chief Michael Newbury. "This will ensure that we will be able to protect our residents and our brave firefighters by changing the future outcome of fire."

The use of modern building products and synthetic furnishings has reduced the time to escape a home fire safely to less than three minutes. Fire sprinklers greatly increase the ability to escape a fire safely by controlling the flames until the fire department arrives. Having smoke alarms and fire sprinkler have been proven to protect lives and property against fire. In fact, fire sprinklers cut the risk of dying in a home fire by more than 80 percent. It is obvious from pictures available on home sales sights that this home had smoke alarms on every floor and in every bedroom, as required by the BBRS.

“We constantly ask ourselves how we can reach the public so that they understand how quickly fires occur with today’s modern furnishings,” adds Massachusetts Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition Chair and Retired Fire Chief Paul Zbikowski. “Everyone says that new homes won’t burn. Well, this is an example that that is simply not true. We must re-evaluate our Massachusetts Code and not remove the provision that can address this threat straight on. We are essentially building sub-standard homes when we leave this life safety feature out.”

A fire in a home today needs smoke alarms to alert occupants, which in this fire, we believe they did. Fires in a today’s homes needs fire sprinklers to contain the fire to the area where it starts. Only the fire sprinkler closest to where the fire starts activates and discharges water. Many movies or television commercials portray all fire sprinklers activating or that they are connected to the fire alarm. That is not the case. In nearly all fires in homes with fire sprinklers only one or two fire sprinklers activate closest to the fire, controlling the fire and keeping it from growing until the fire department arrives. Finally, a fire in a home needs the fire department regardless of whether it has fire sprinklers or not, as people may need help escaping and the fire needs to be completely extinguished and the home checked.

“We cannot help but point out the public policy failure at every level that this fire highlights,” explains Shane Ray NFSA President. “This tragedy should not have occurred. It is a tragic example that the decision to protect people from fire should be made at the local level, especially when the state fails to take the proper actions. Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this tragic incident. We are hopeful that changes will be made.”

Thanks to Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Research Institute (ULFSRI) for conducting experiments since 2009 and for capturing a new side-by-side comparison of natural versus synthetic furnished rooms in 2020. The results of the tests have been very similar for over a decade. We believe that is what happened in the case of this fire in Massachusetts. NFSA and ULFSRI partnered together in 2016, using a modern 3,200 square foot house inside the UL research facility in Northbrook, Illinois.

In all experiments and tests conducted, the time to flashover, which means the house would be inescapable, was less than five minutes. We are here to work with everyone to ensure proper information is available and that future tragedies are avoided. We are hopeful that the BBRS listens to the research and data and takes action to do what their website says “The BBRS regularly updates the state building codes as new information and technology becomes available and change is warranted”. We stand ready to assist and ensure that these tragedies don’t occur in houses not yet built.

About the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA): NFSA was founded in 1905 and wants to create a more fire safe world and works to heighten the awareness of the importance of fire sprinkler systems from homes to high-rise and all occupancies in between. The Association is an inclusive organization made up of dedicated and committed members of a progressive life-saving industry. This industry manufactures, designs, supplies, installs, inspects, and services the world’s most effective system in saving lives and property from uncontrolled structural fires.

For more information about fire sprinklers, how they work and access to additional resources and information, visit www.nfsa.org for the latest material, statistics and a dedicated team of fire safety advocates ready to serve all stakeholders in order to fulfill the vision of a safer world.

 

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