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Ashwaubenon Apartment Fire Displaces Dozens, Highlights Importance of State’s Multifamily Fire Sprinkler Requirements

Early in the morning on March 13, 30 people were displaced when a fire broke out in the unsprinklered 48-unit Creekwood Apartments building in Ashwaubenon. When firefighters arrived, flames were engulfing a third-floor balcony and the roof. By the time the fire was put out, one-quarter of the living units were damaged.

While no one was hurt, the fire is a harsh reminder of the lack of fire protection in many older multifamily dwellings across the state. Older multifamily dwellings, such as where this fire occurred, were not required to install fire sprinklers at the times they were built, which is why so many apartment building fires can turn catastrophic and often fatal.

That’s why the state of Wisconsin has made advancements in its building codes to require the installation of fire sprinklers in all new construction multifamily dwellings of three units and greater since January 1, 2011.

“Yesterday’s fire in Ashwaubenon will have an unfortunate lasting impact on the community as long-term shelter and other accommodations need to be found for those who were displaced while the building is assessed and repaired for damages,” says Dan Gengler, a former fire official who represents the nonprofit Wisconsin Chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA-WI). “In most of these apartment fires, some residents do not have renter’s insurance and will have lost everything.”

“You can fully understand the logic behind the state law when you imagine how much cheaper it is to install fire sprinklers in a new multifamily dwelling in comparison to the cost of renovating or demolishing that building after a major fire,” adds Gengler.

Fire sprinklers keep fires from spreading unit to unit in multifamily dwellings and thereby control property damage. Each sprinkler is individually activated by heat, so only the sprinkler closest to a fire activates. It controls or even extinguishes the fire in its place of origin, keeps toxic smoke and fumes from spreading, and prevents injuries and deaths for occupants and responding firefighters alike.

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, having both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system present in a residential building reduces the risk of death in a fire by 82%, relative to having neither. Smoke alarms alert occupants of a fire, while fire sprinklers allow them to safely escape.

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