NFPA against proposal to allow fire extinguishers in kitchens in lieu of fire sprinklers

The group says proposed change in the International Residential Code could cost lives
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

QUINCY, Mass.—A proposal to exempt homes with just a fire extinguisher in the kitchen from an International Residential Code requirement that all new homes have fire sprinklers is tragically misguided, according to a spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

The International Code Council is slated to consider the amendment during ICC committee action hearings, set to run April 21 to April 30 in Dallas.

But Maria Figueroa, Fire Sprinkler Initiative communications project manager, told Security Systems News that “there are so many things wrong with that [proposal].”  The Fire Sprinkler Initiative of the NFPA, which is based here, advocates the use of home fire sprinklers.

Figueroa said “the entire life safety community” is opposed to the fire extinguisher exemption proposal because it could cost lives.

That’s because fire extinguishers need special training to use, must to be maintained to be effective, and residents unsuccessfully struggling with them can use up the precious minutes they have to escape a fire before being overcome by toxic smoke, she said.

Also, she said, most fatal fires occur elsewhere in the house, not in the kitchen. And for fires that do start in the kitchen, Figueroa said, “What about if you’re sleeping? … The smoke alarm will wake you up, but when you get to the kitchen you can’t get to the fire extinguisher because the fire is blocking you.”

By contrast, she said, sprinklers protect all dwelling areas of the house, controlling a fire so that residents have time to escape.

The IRC since 2009 has required fire sprinklers in new homes. But the requirement is opposed by many homebuilders, who contend sprinklers add too much to their costs.

Figueroa said that this year the opposition, mainly the builders, has “put proposals forward and the most ridiculous one, the wildest one, is to actually put a fire extinguisher in the kitchen in lieu of fire sprinklers.”

Figueroa addressed the issue in the blog she writes for the Fire Sprinkler Initiative.

She wrote that the proposal “suggests revising the townhouse and one- and two-family dwelling fire sprinkler requirements with the following exception: ‘An automatic residential fire sprinkler shall not be required when a fire extinguisher has been installed in the kitchen…’”

She told SSN there are many problems with that idea. “To put something like that in the code means that for the life of the home, someone has to make sure that extinguisher is serviced, still good and somebody is trained to use it.”

Also, she added, “that’s an able-bodied person. What about an older adult whose grip can’t operate a fire extinguisher? What about little children? What about people with other disabilities? Those are the people who are dying in home fires because they’re incapable of self-rescue. Fire sprinklers buy that additional time that they need.”

Figueroa said the NFPA plans to send someone to testify against the proposal as the ICC hearings in Dallas. If the committee accepts the proposal, she said that NFPA will respond before the final hearings, which are to take place Oct. 2-10 in Atlantic City, N.J.