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Research: Today’s Home Fires Burning Faster

The latest fire tests and research from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) indicate that home fires are burning faster and hotter than fires of the past — a growing issue for responding firefighters.

While new homes have many advantages, they also present many unique fire hazards. According to the research, lightweight materials that are present in newer homes, such as engineered floor systems, along with open construction designs when exposed to fire can create more dangerous conditions faster and fail sooner compared to older dimensional lumber systems. Airtight construction and energy-conserving building materials such as double-glazed (vinyl) windows, synthetic insulation materials and foam sheathing can make for faster-spreading fires. Also, contents of today’s homes — polyurethane foam-filled furniture and other synthetic objects such as carpet and electronics — can cause flashover and billowing, poisonous smoke.

Due to the materials with which today’s homes are built and furnished, homeowners have less time to safely escape in a fire. Also, responding firefighters are more likely to encounter hidden structural dangers such as weakened floors or ceilings that could potentially cause injuries or deaths on the fireground.

Ten years ago, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation addressed the issue in its “16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives,” which aim to reduce firefighter line-of-duty injuries and deaths. Initiative 15 states, “Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.”

Home fire sprinklers put water on a fire while it is still small and before it has an opportunity to spread. The quick response and cooling action of fire sprinklers prevent flashover so residents can safely escape and firefighters do not have to risk their lives when entering a home.

To educate building and public officials, the national nonprofit Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) recently released a new educational video titled, “Protecting Your Community with Home Fire Sprinklers.” The video includes interviews with experts from UL and NIST.

As we begin the new year, please be sure to include home fire sprinkler education as a vital piece of your outreach efforts to colleagues in your fire department, building and public officials, and the community. Installing fire sprinklers in your community’s homes protects residents and firefighters alike.

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