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Injuries to Firefighter and Civilians in Racine House Fire Reveal Shortfalls of Fire & Building Codes

An electrical failure in a bedroom wall outlet of a Racine home was the suspected cause of an overnight fire on July 30 that caused injuries to three adults and one firefighter. The adult residents were transported to the hospital after suffering from minor burns and/or smoke inhalation, while the firefighter was treated for a head laceration due to falling glass. There was an estimated $40,000 in damage to the home and $5,000 in damage to its contents.

Dan Gengler, a retired Wisconsin fire official who represents the nonprofit Wisconsin Chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA-WI), says the lack of fire sprinkler protection in the home is a contributing reason for the injuries. Also, fire sprinklers could have significantly reduced the damage.

“Unfortunately, older homes such as where this fire occurred are not required to be protected with fire sprinklers,” says Gengler. “But the bigger issue is that Wisconsin has failed to adopt the latest national model building codes from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and International Code Council that include requirements for fire sprinklers in new construction homes. The requirements are meant to prevent injuries to residents and firefighters like those that occurred today.”

“We continue to build substandard housing in Wisconsin,” adds Gengler. “Each year, thousands of new homes are built without installing lifesaving fire sprinkler systems. Not only do the current homeowners miss out on the fire safety provided by sprinklers, but so do future generations of homeowners.”

In regard to the firefighter injury, Gengler references Initiative 15 from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s “16 Life Safety Initiatives.” The initiatives are developed to prevent line-of-duty deaths and injuries to firefighters. Initiative 15 states, “Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.”

“While smoke alarms are an essential part of the fire safety equation, some homeowners do not have them installed and many more forget to change the batteries that keep them working,” states Gengler. “Fire sprinklers should always be considered in addition to smoke alarms when building a new home because they save lives.”

Fire sprinklers work even if smoke alarms are not present or are not operational because they are individually activated by heat. They control or extinguish a fire in its place of origin, keeping toxic smoke and fumes from spreading and allowing homeowners to escape safely without harm.

NFPA statistics report that installing both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system in a home reduces the risk of death in a fire by over 80%, relative to having neither.

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