Minnesota Apartment Fire Exemplifies Difference Made by Fire Sprinkler Systems

Linthicum Heights, Maryland, UNITED STATES


Linthicum Heights, MD, Jan. 13, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 126 people have perished in fires during the first ten days of 2022 (https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/civilian-fatalities/incident/reportList). The National Fire Sprinkler Association believes that, according to information derived from media reports, of the 126, more than 27 were children. We have all watched the tragedies in Philadelphia and New York City unfold through the media, but what we have not done is feel the pain of families who have lost loved ones. We have not faced the horror that brave firefighters faced saving so many lives and risking their own. Keep in mind that in the Bronx, NY fire, 15 people remain in critical condition, which means the death toll could rise. An additional 63 people were injured, not to mention the emotional toll on families of those traumatized by the incident and the physical and mental toll on the brave firefighters from the Fire Department of New York. 

The state we need to turn our attention to is Minnesota. Minnesota state lawmakers acted last year to require fire sprinklers in all public high-rise occupancies. Thanks to the leadership of Representative Mohamud Noor and State Senator Kari Dziedzic, legislation was passed to reduce tragedies in public residential high-rise buildings across Minnesota. This action began after the tragic fire that occurred on November 27, 2019, in the Cedar High Apartments in Minneapolis. This fire took the lives of five people initially. but six ultimately died, and firefighters faced a raging fire when they arrived. This new law will ensure that all publicly owned residential buildings that are over 75 feet in height, which is the basis for the national codes and standards, must be protected with fire sprinklers by 2033. We applaud Senator Dziedzic and Representative Noor for their continued leadership on life safety in seeking to also protect residents in private high-rise residential buildings.  

We know there are people still at risk in their homes and we know that the legislation didn’t go far enough to ensure all building occupants and firefighters are safe. The time is now to gather all stakeholders responsible for keeping occupants and firefighters safe. No one wants to say we didn’t do enough, and we should remember the courageous comments of former Governor Arne Carlson when he said the state “failed” after the legislature passed proposals in 1993 and 1994 to require high-rise retrofit, which he vetoed.  

It is time for federal, state, and local officials to ensure public policy is in place to protect those most vulnerable to fire. Complementing the work completed in Minnesota, actions are also being taken at the national level.  Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota has introduced the Public Housing Fire Safety Act. Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey has introduced the High-Rise Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act of 2021. The Build Back Better Act contains $60 Billion for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address safety hazards, including fire protection.  

Based on the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Sprinkler Effectiveness Report https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/sfm/mfirs/Documents/Sprinkler-effectiveness-2004-2018.pdf, there were an estimated 1,009 buildings saved by fire sprinklers. There was no mention of a death in a building protected with fire sprinklers.   

What we do not often see in the media is building fires where no one was injured, where the building is not destroyed, and where the firefighters faced much less risk. After answering many media inquiries regarding the two recent fatal fires, we received a report from Assistant Fire Chief/Fire Marshal of the South Metro Fire Department, Terry Johnson. Chief Johnson shared photos and a report of a fire in a three-story apartment building in South St. Paul, Minnesota. He reported a fire that occurred January 9th at 2:48 a.m., which is during some of the deadliest times for fire to occur, when people are asleep. In South Saint Paul, firefighters entered the building and were “met with smoke, but no fire,” according to Chief Johnson. He went on to report that it appears the fire started around a computer desk in the residence, likely from a paper shredder. The fire sprinkler system contained to the room where it started. Firefighters finished extinguishment and made sure all occupants were safe. This report didn’t make the evening news. The headline should have read, “Over 100 people safe and unharmed, 50 Firefighters exposed to less toxins and risks, and a $20 million dollar building in the community is still standing and people are still living in it the same day the fire occurred.” 

While our hearts go out for those impacted by these very public tragedies, NFSA’s President Shane Ray, former fire chief in Pleasant View, Tennessee and former South Carolina State Fire Marshal, reminds us, “Based on past trends, unfortunately approximately 240 more people will likely die this month.” Utilizing data collected from the United States Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association, 31,591 people have died in their homes (residential occupancies) since 2010. In the same period, only 63 people have died in their homes with fire sprinklers. We know that in the 63 that perished in homes with fire sprinklers, most were at the source, or cause of, the fire. 

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. The NFSA Minnesota Chapter is an active local component ensuring grassroot efforts are shared with the entire country.  

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 to fulfill the vision of a safer world.  

 

 

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