About a month ago, a very expensive home caught fire and burned downed in a Mason which is just North of Cincinnati. The home was valued at $500K and is typical of the homes in this rapidly developing suburb. The home burned in part because it took firefighters over 12 minutes to arrive at the scene. There was no negligence on the part of the fire department, rather the delay in responding was due to the sparseness of fire departments outside of the city limits. As Cincinnati continues to grow North, suburbs are being built faster than fire departments (and other public safety agencies) can be created to fill the need.
The Mason fire started a length discussion in the local newspaper about the distribution of fire departments in the area. For instance, within the city limits it is not uncommon to find multiple fire departments within a few miles of one another (Elmwood Place, St Bernard and Cincinnati have fire stations adjacent to each other). The Wyoming Fire Department often is called out to fight fires in other jurisdictions. The ability for other departments to support one another under such circumstances is ideal. As you travel North on I-75, the number of fire departments drop drastically. A single station maybe responsible for an entire township resulting in the long response time noted above.
The paper quoted local fire chiefs as to their thoughts on how the disparity between fire coverage in the city and suburbs could be addressed. Most agreed it would be impossible to redistribute fire service capabilities unless all a regional fire service was created. The outcry from local elected officials, citizens and even some fire chiefs keeps this option from being viable. For example, two smaller municipalities agreed to combine fire and EMS departments. Both of these municipalities have good tax bases which should have meant this was an ideal situation. Instead, one municipality is complaining because the majority of EMS runs goes to the other municipality. I can’t imagine the level of squabbling that would occur if such a proposal was attempted on regional basis.
I teach safety and security management and felt there had to be another solution to the problem. I then came across a concept many of you may not have heard of; home fire sprinkler systems. Home sprinkler systems, listed by Underwriters Labs, react automatically to fires using state of the art sensors and technology. They are low cost and according the United States Fire Association (USFA) website, cost per foot in new constructions is $1 to $1.50. The home systems don’t look like the typical systems you see in commercial or industrial constructions. The systems can be blended into the décor of the home. Installation and water requirements for the systems in new construction are estimated to be much lower than for commercial construction sites. The home systems are designed to respond only to the room with the fire, in other words the whole system does not activate in the event your dinner starts to burn on the stove. Water damage from the sprinkler system suppressing a fire is far less than from the smoke and associated damage from a house fire without a sprinkler system.
Several residences have initiated home sprinkler ordnances; Livermore, California
Montgomery County, MD; Long Grove, Illinois; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Germantown, Tennessee; Scottsdale, Arizona; Altamonte Springs, Florida. Insurance discounts vary but range between 5-15%.
Some other considerations for having a home sprinkler system:
- A fire occurs in a residential structure every 79 seconds, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
- Families with children, senior citizens, and handicapped members have special fire protection needs. Home sprinkler systems provide added protection for these people.
- In case of a home fire, firefighters will have less risk of injury or life loss since they will be fighting a fire of less intensity.
- Allocation of community resources can be improved with the adoption of home sprinkler technology.
- Communities will be able to make better utilization of available land and thereby increase their tax base.
Developing a regional fire department is certainly a cost-effective and practical concept, however it may take years of negotiations before anything can happen. In the meantime, home owners can explore another option to insuring the safety of their homes and loved ones by installing a home fire sprinkler system.