Asa Tuten Memorial – GFSA Essay Contest

The Asa Tuten Memorial – GFSA Essay Contest for 2017 has ended. Thank you to all who participated.  

The first place winner of a $1500 scholarship is Brian at Camden County High School

The second place winner of a $1000 scholarship is Devin at Troup Comprehensive High School

The third place winner of a $750 scholarship is Carson at Woodward Academy

The scholarship will be paid directly to the educational institution in the student’s account.

 

The first place essay by Brian:

THE MYTHS AND FACTS OF RESIDENTIAL SPRINKLERS

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 2015 alone was a year in which 1,345,500 fires were reported across the entire United States. Tragically, these fires collectively destroyed over $14 billion dollars in property, inflicted injuries in nearly 16,000 people, and stole away the lives of 3,280 loved ones [15]. To the benefit of a countless many, however, the fire sprinkler has been shown to highly succeed in saving the lives of people, pets, and property. However, the 2009 American Housing Survey found that only 4.6% of occupied homes had sprinklers installed [6]. It seems that homeowners are wary of having sprinklers within their homes, but the reasons for that are simply misunderstood. The truth, often times, is obscured by misunderstanding, but the benefits of fire sprinklers vastly outweigh any costs; it is only a matter of raising awareness.

 

Among the many misconceptions which exist over fire sprinklers, there generally are three themes, which revolve around the concern over sprinklers malfunctioning (or inappropriately activating), their practicality, and the costs associated with having them. In regards to a breakdown or such, people tend to believe that sprinklers will leak often. In reality, fire sprinklers are thoroughly tested to avoid leakage, which results in 1 sprinkler malfunctioning among 16,000,000 sprinklers each year [4]. Secondly, people believe that if a fire does occur, or if even a wisp of smoke reaches a fire sprinkler, then the entire system will activate. Films promote this belief, but the reality is that sprinklers simply don’t operate in that fashion. Each sprinkler head is activated only when temperatures reach in excess of 155° F. Furthermore, a study conducted over the course of eighty years has shown that 82% of fires were contained by two or fewer sprinklers [14].

 

Then there is the practicality. Generally, people feel that sprinklers are unnecessary, as smoke detectors sufficiently provide all the protection that is needed. This is perhaps one of the largest mistakes in thinking when it comes to one’s safety in the home, as smoke detectors only alert people to the presence of a fire; the occupants must still be capable of escaping the house. Because of this, small children and elderly adults are most at risk from dying to a fire due to their lessened capacities for mobility [14]. Fire sprinklers, meanwhile, will automatically extinguish a fire, saving the lives of not just the able-bodied, but also that of everyone else. Furthermore, fire sprinklers dramatically reduce the costs incurred from property damage compared to homes in which a fire was left to spread unabated. Sprinklers release between 8-24 gallons of water per minute, which is drastically less (both in quantity and damage incurred) than the high-pressured 80-125 gallons of water per minute sprayed by the fire department [14].

 

Even beyond malfunctions or practicality, people worry still about exorbitant costs, of which perhaps constitutes the majority of their disinterest towards sprinklers. The truth is, home fire sprinklers are fairly inexpensive to install, even in existing homes. The NFPA study conducted in 2013 (which was a followup to its 2008 study) found that the median cost of installing sprinklers among fifty-one homes in seventeen communities was $1.22 per square foot, or about $5,000 in total costs [17]. This sort of expense is akin to the cost of upgrading carpet within a household [15]. Along with the low cost of installation, the only maintenance required with properly-installed home sprinklers are visual checks to ensure that nothing is obstructing the sprinklers from pouring out properly in the event of a fire, and refraining from turning off the main control valve [15].

 

Despite all of the benefits of which result from possessing a home sprinkler, home builders will often oppose home sprinklers on various grounds, many of which can be summarized into the supposed impracticality and high costs associated with them; it is important to note here that many of the arguments which the home builders propose actually reflect many of the misconceptions that people in general hold. In terms of practicality, home builders will state that new homes are built with better means of fire protection. Although modern improvements can be credited (such as better electrical and heating systems) with lessening the likelihood of a fire resulting from the house itself, the issue here is that these are used as grounds for opposing fire sprinklers, claiming them as simply unnecessary. The reality is that these improvements do not invalidate the life-saving capacities of fire sprinklers. Fire Team USA effectively summarizes this point when they say that “the three main causes of fire are men, women, and children.” [21]. In terms of expense, home builders will claim that installing fire sprinklers will be much too costly. However, this is simply untrue. Among multiple relevant studies conducted by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), home fire sprinklers have been found to be quite cost-effective. According to the USFA, since maintenance and inspection on such systems can be performed by homeowners themselves (thus saving money on inspections by professionals), and since the reliability of sprinklers allows for highly-effective mitigation of damage costs by fire, homeowners will experience high cost-effectiveness from installing home sprinklers [3].

 

In the end, any opposition towards the installation of fire sprinklers is something which is borne in misunderstanding. Fire sprinklers have the genuine capacity to save lives, but people only need to learn of them.  However, in the words of Lorraine Carli, a HSFC president, “It’s certainly encouraging to see that… the majority [of people surveyed] would rather buy a sprinklered home…” [19]. This was in reference to a national Harris Poll survey conducted in 2014. The implications of this statement certainly signify that opinion is changing, and more people are growing aware of the benefits of the fire sprinkler. Perhaps it would not be farfetched to think that one day, fire sprinklers will accompany smoke detectors in every home across the United States, and provide the protection which every family deserves.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Brinkley, Mark. “Do Homes Need Sprinklers?” Homebuilding & Renovating. N.p., 07 Oct. 2016. Web. 11 Feb. 2017. <https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/do-homes-need-sprinklers/>.
  2. Brown, Hayden. Economic Analysis of Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems. N.p.: U.S. Department of Commerce, n.d. PDF.
  3. Butry, David T., Brown, Hayden M., and Sieglinde K. Fuller. Benefit-Cost Analysis of Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems. N.p.: U.S. Department of Commerce, n.d. PDF.
  4. Fire Sprinkler Facts. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.
  5. “Fire Sprinkler Myths.” Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. N.p., 09 June 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017. <https://homefiresprinkler.org/fire-sprinkler-myths/>.
  6. Gaines, Glenn A. A Message from the United States Fire Administrator about Residential Fire Sprinklers. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.
  7. Hall, John R., Jr. “U.S. Experience with Sprinklers.” NFPA report – U.S. Experience with Sprinklers. N.p., June 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2017. <http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/fire-safety-equipment/us-experience-with-sprinklers>.
  8. Hardy, Benjamin. “Residential Sprinkler Systems.” Bobvila. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017. <https://www.bobvila.com/articles/465-residential-sprinkler-systems/#.WMXykjsrLIV>.
  9. Henzi, Brent. “IBHS Provides Facts and Myths about Home Fire Sprinkler Systems, which Save Lives and Reduce Property Losses.” IBHS. N.p., 06 May 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2017. <https://disastersafety.org/ibhs-news-releases/ibhs-provides-facts-myths-home-fire-sprinkler-systems-save-lives-reduce-property-losses/>.
  10. “Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Connecticut, Inc. – Fire Sprinklers in SF Homes.” Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Connecticut, Inc. – Fire Sprinklers in SF Homes. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2017. <http://www.hbact.org/FireSprinklers>.