Illinois advocate is home sprinkler champion

NFPA recognizes Tom Lia for his work getting communities to adopt sprinkler requirements
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Monday, May 13, 2013

QUINCY, Mass.—This year marked the fifth year the National Fire Protection Association has held its annual Fire Sprinkler Summit—and the first year the organization gave out a Home Fire Sprinkler Champion Award.

The winner of the award was Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. NFPA President Jim Shannon presented the award to Lia at NFPA’s 2013 “Bringing Safety Home” Fire Sprinkler Summit, held in Chicago on April 15-16.

Maria Figueroa, communications project manager for the NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative, which advocates for home sprinklers, said the award was instituted “to recognize advocates in the field, because that’s really where the rubber meets the road.” Lia is an ideal choice for the award, which will be given out annually from now on, she said.

“We’re a code-making organization,” Figueroa explained to Security Systems News, “but our standards and building standards [model codes that require home fire sprinklers] have to be adopted at the state and local level.” She said people such as Lia, “who I like to call sparkplugs,” make that happen. “They bring people together, they do everything right to make sure these minimum standards of safety are adopted in their communities. Tom has been doing that for a long time.”

Since Lia joined the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board in 1999, Figueroa said, the number of communities adopting NFPA 13D single-family home fire sprinkler ordinances has grown dramatically. When he started, she said, just three communities had such ordinances but as of mid-May, 91 Illinois municipalities had adopted them.

Also, Lia has participated in more than 325 side-by-side fire sprinkler burn demonstrations where small model buildings, one without sprinklers and one with the devices, are burned side by side.

The demonstration shows “the difference sprinklers make,” Figueroa said. “He actually started this and his prop served as a model to develop the side-by-side [Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s] burn demonstration kit that is provided for free to fire departments or others who want to put on that demonstration.”

“We’ve even mirrored some of the things we’ve done [at the NFPA summit] after Tom Lia’s activities,” she said.

Lia told SSN in an email that he “was very much surprised and honored” to receive the award.

“[It is] the fire chief and fire marshal who makes the first step when he or she decides to pursue a residential code upgrade for [a] town’s residents and firefighters. That initial step is the real honorable event. I am just happy to be able to participate and help as much as they need or want,” Lia said.

Lia assists with the process by providing documents and reports, conducting research, speaking to town officials and at public meetings, and conducting burn demonstrations.

Shannon said in a prepared statement: “Tom is a terrific example of what this effort is—passionate, driven individuals working all across the country to save lives and property from fire with the proven, effective technology of fire sprinklers.”

The annual NFPA summit is designed to “draw together stakeholders in the home fire sprinkler issue” in one place so they can network and learn from each other and from case studies and expert panels, Figueroa said.

This year, 30 states were represented and about 100 advocates attended the invitation-only event, she said.