Benefits of residential sprinkler systems

In introducing Fire Prevention Week, which began Oct. 9, Chesterfield County’s Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) demonstrated Thursday afternoon the benefits of residential fire sprinkler systems at the Enon Fire Training Facility.

There, two simulated rooms were, individually, set ablaze – one with and one without residential sprinklers – not only to show the abrupt permeability of a home fire, but to illustrate how quickly fire sprinklers can extinguish a fire prior to firefighters’ arrival. The room without the overhead sprinkler system was quickly engulfed in violent flames and had to be extinguished by a team of firefighters rushing to the scene; the fire in the other was doused long before the flames intensified, therefore preventing the room from being destroyed.  

“This was a success,” said Fire Chief Edward L. Senter. “I think this clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of having residential sprinklers, and we certainly hope that future efforts to require this in new construction in the future will be successful; and, if not, hopefully the public will see this as an opportunity to do it on their own.”

After the demonstration, Captain Matt Coffin said an installed residential sprinkler system was like having a “built-in firefighter in your house.”    

According to Senter, interest in using residential sprinkler systems is the product of a partnership with state agencies and organizations in the country which are promoting fire safety and fire sprinklers in residential construction. He said these efforts resemble the movement in the 1970’s which mandated that fire alarms be assembled in newly constructed homes.

Though the county’s Fire and EMS department is promoting sprinkler installation in new homes, Senter said they can be built in an existing home as well; however, it is vastly more expensive in that case.

For Senter, fire sprinklers protect people’s lives and their property, but he feels it also helps to protect the firefighters of Chesterfield County – and around the country. The department, serving more than 311,000 people in the county, is a combination career/volunteer system consisting of 466 career firefighters and roughly 155 active volunteer personnel operating from 20 fire and nine rescue stations in the county.

“While residential sprinklers will never replace the need for firefighters, it is our hope that, in the future, these built-in firefighters will be as common in the residential structure as the smoke detector is today,” said Senter.

For Lt. Jason Elmore, with the Chesterfield Fire and EMS, the movement toward residential sprinkler systems is crucial.

“It’s important, first and foremost, for life safety;” he said, “that’s what this is all about, that’s what the push is for: is to be able to make sure that everyone gets out of a house alive that catches fire. Unfortunately, there are things that happen throughout the country – that fires are going to start – and we don’t think that’s going to go away.”

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