What Did We Learn from Anderson County Group Home Fire?

I feel compelled to dig into this story. The focus became fire sprinklers but I’m not convinced it should have. I’m at a loss. I honestly don’t know what to say first. I can say this, I’ve spent two hours checking resources, one article against another. The whole thing smells kind of fishy to me. This group home fire will be a major topic of this blog, quite frankly, because I feel Missouri had an opportunity to set a precedent in more ways than one.

Many things are wrong about what has resulted from this fire. I’m even considering starting another blog dedicated to the topic of this tragedy. Simply because I think the word needs to get out. Not just for sprinkler sake, but for life safety sake.

I’ll start with the latest. This article explains the decision the State has come to regarding sprinklers in group homes across Missouri. Here’s a quote;

The legislation, passed overwhelmingly last week, excludes existing residential care and assisted living facilities with 20 or fewer residents from having to retrofit their buildings for sprinklers.

About half of Missouri’s facilities – 310 of the 616 – currently lack sprinkler systems. The bill’s exemption means that 120 of those would be forced to install sprinklers, according to Department of Health and Senior Services figures provided to The Associated Press. The bill gives those facilities until Dec. 31, 2012, to comply.”

If I remember correctly the Legislation initially called for sprinklering ALL of Missouri’s group homes. Now, 120 will be forced to install sprinklers. That’s 40%. It’s a step forward and a step forward is closer than we were (in terms of sprinklers). However, as I stated before, I’m not sure sprinklers should have become the only focus. The following quote is chilling,

The Anderson Guest House for the mentally ill and disabled had 32 residents but no sprinkler system when a smoldering attic fire spread and destroyed the southwest Missouri facility on Nov. 27, killing 10 residents and one of the two staff members on duty.”

One of two staff members? This is the line that really got me to look into this story. Two staff members in charge of 32 residents. Unbelievable. And, I’ve only scratched the surface.

In the intrest of not trying to solve this mystery/tragedy tonight the following are links to the stories I’ve read and have interest in regarding this subject. I would love feedback. Read for yourself. Tell me if I’m crazy for getting all worked up over this. Here are the links;

Both quotes I used in this post were from; “Exemptions dilute sprinkler measure for group homes.” [columbiatribune.com]

Articles on the topic/future fodder;
“Fire in Missouri Kills 10 at Home for Mentally Ill and Disabled,” [New York Times]

“As families plan funerals, officials probe possibility of bad wiring in group home fire,” [USA Today]

And several stories from the Missourinet. Search “Group Home”.

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Forest Fire Save #3

Okay, I know this is getting redundant but I have to store these articles somewhere.

Another dream home/vacation spot/retirement hide-away saved by the raveging forest fires in Minnesota. This article goes into a little more depth about how they work. It’s the carrot in front of the nose feeling. I get a little nibble but still need to know more. Hopefully, someone, somewhere, will happen by here and enlighten me. [The Cannon Falls Beacon]

PS I know I sound desperate, but desperate men take desparate measures.

Wisconsin; Chamber of Commerce Proposes Sprinkler Requirment to Legislature

Another fire marshal supports sprinklers in residential occupancies. Ed Ruckriegel, City of Madison, Wisconsin fire marshal explains that the State of Wisconsin “Department of Commerce has developed rules requiring the installation of automatic fire sprinklers in all new residential buildings with three or more dwelling units,” and has proposed them to the State Legislature.

Ed has many good points in this article,

This opportunity to save lives should not be missed. The Legislature can make Wisconsin safer and bring our building codes up to the same standard used in most other states. More than a century’s worth of data shows that fire sprinkler systems save lives.

On the local level, the city of Madison Fire Department has responded to many fires that have been controlled or completely extinguished by fire sprinklers. In at least two incidents, the occupant in the room of fire origin awoke when the sprinklers activated, controlling the fire around them — saving two lives. In each case, the cause of the fire was careless smoking — the leading cause of fire fatalities nationally. The last four fire deaths in Madison were caused by careless smoking and occurred in buildings without fire sprinklers.”

Short of preventing smoking in dwelling units, fire sprinklers are the best option. Many cities are banning smoking in public places but banning in someones home is a whole different beast. Maybe I’m getting off the subject a little but I have a point. Careless smoking is not the only culpret for fires. Unattended candles, and fires in the kitchen follow behind careless smoking. My point is this, accidents happen and lives are at risk. Sprinklers can help save innocent people that are living in the same building where accidents happen, sometimes, to the fault of no one.

Opposition to mandated residential sprinkler systems traditionally relates to the financial impact. The argument is that the cost of installing fire sprinklers will drive up the costs of construction and subsequently drive down the availability of affordable housing.

It is the same argument presented when the fire service and Department of Commerce pushed for smoke alarms in the early 1970s.

In reality, fire sprinklers cost less than $2 per square foot to install. Fire sprinklers cost less than the carpet or cabinets. In fact, when the builder calculates all of the savings permitted by the building code when fire sprinklers are installed, it is less expensive to build a building with fire sprinklers than a building without fire sprinklers. The financial argument is all wet.

I read an article (I’ll have to find it) before I started this blog where the author provided a complete cost break down and articulates well why the “financial impact” theory doesn’t float (to continue the pun). Look for a link here soon.

If you want more information check out the article courtesy of The Capitol Times.

Mr. Ruckriegel, if you happen by this corner of cyberspace let me know if the the fire marshals office has a blog or a website that supports residential sprinklers e-mail me and I’ll post it up on the “Vote Res” page. The site, or blog doesn’t even have to promote residential fire sprinklers.

Loyola High School Fire; Los Angeles

I’m betting this school was retrofit with sprinklers. There were no sprinklers in the room of origin but the fire was contained to one room due to sprinklers in the adjacent corridor. [lafd.blogspot.com]

Sometimes in retrofits you’ll see this. Sprinklers are added only to the corridors for evacuation purposes. The principle concern in these situations is life safety. Of course Sprinklering the entire building is the best option but sometimes it just isn’t possible, financially or otherwise. In this case, I believe the fire sprinklers did their job. We’ll count this as save.

Residential Sprinkler Requirement? Not Yet.

Well, word has hit the street. There won’t be a residential sprinkler requirement for single family homes in the next edition of the International Residential Code (IRC). However, from the way this article puts it, it’s only a matter of time. According to the article “well over” half of the voting members supported the adoption of the requirment but because this vote needed a “supermajority” (a two-thirds vote) rather than a simple majority, the requirment was not adopted. [prnewswire.com]

Our level of support in Rochester was nothing short of astounding. I’ve been a proponent of residential sprinklers for many years, and to see what the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition has accomplished in less than six months to rally this cause gives me great confidence in the future of residential sprinklers,” said Ronny J. Coleman, former California state fire marshal. “It’s now clear to me that the question is no longer if we’ll have a national requirement for residential sprinklers, but when, and I think it will happen soon.”

I’ll keep the “Vote Res” page up and add to it as I come across articles and organizations supporting the effort.

Day Two

It’s day two of the ICC final action heaing in Rochester, New York. This hearing decides what changes/additions make it into the next edition of the International Building Code. We are anticipating a vote on the residential fire sprinkler requirement. I’ve not read or seen anything yet. Stay tuned.

Fires in Combustible Concealed Spaces

We had a fire similar to this one in my neck of the woods. [firefightingnews.com]

The fire here destroyed the whole building after smoldering for 10 hours in the ceiling joists. When someone finally did smell smoke and called the fire department it was too late. Just as the fire fighters entered the building it reached flash-over, severly injuring all seven(?) of them.

Historic buildings are tricky because all of them have combustible concealed spaces. Would sprinklers have stopped that fire from smoldering in those ceiling joists? Probably not. But there is a good chance the fire wouldn’t have reached flashover. Also keep in mind that NFPA 13 has specific requirements for the protection of buildings with unprotected combustible concealed spaces.

From NFPA 13 section 11.2.3.1.8;

(3)* For buildings having unsprinklered combustible concealed spaces, as described in 8.14.1.2 and 8.14.6, the minimum area of sprinkler operation shall be 3000 ft2 (279 m2).
(4) The following unsprinklered combustible concealed spaces shall not require a minimum area of sprinkler operation of 3000 ft2 (279 m2):
(a) Combustible concealed spaces filled entirely with noncombustible insulation.
(b)* Light or ordinary hazard occupancies where noncombustible or limited combustible ceilings are directly attached to the bottom of solid wood joists so as to create enclosed joist spaces 160 ft3 (4.5 m3) or less in volume, including space below insulation that is laid directly on top or within the ceiling joists in an otherwise sprinklered attic.
(c)* Concealed spaces where the exposed surfaces have a flame spread rating of 25 or less and the materials have been demonstrated to not propagate fire in the form in which they are installed in the space.
(d) Concealed spaces over isolated small rooms not exceeding 55 ft2 (5.1 m2) in area.
(e) Vertical pipe chases under 10 ft2 (0.93 m2), provided that in multifloor buildings the chases are firestopped at each floor using materials equivalent to the floor construction. Such pipe chases shall contain no sources of ignition, piping shall be noncombustible, and pipe penetrations at each floor shall be properly sealed.

“Minimum area of sprinkler operation” means that in hydraulic calculations for the sprinkler system you must make sure your available water supply will support the demand of sprinklers working in unison over 3000 square feet. That is double the area of what is usually required in light and ordinary hazard occupancies.