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Fire Fatality in Highland Park is Another Tragic Reminder of State’s Necessity for Updated Fire Protection Codes

In the early morning hours of Monday, September 24, a fire ravaged through a home in Highland Park, Illinois, killing one individual. By the time fire crews arrived, the roof had already collapsed and the house was a total loss. The neighboring home showed some signs of damage as well.

According to an Illinois State Fire Marshal’s Office database, there have been 80 total fire deaths in Illinois this year.

Tom Lia, executive director for the nonprofit Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB), notes that this tragic event is another unfortunate reminder of the need for better fire protection codes that incorporate residential fire sprinklers in new construction within Illinois jurisdictions. In fact, Highland Park officials had considered passing a residential fire sprinkler ordinance for new construction a couple of years ago, but succumbed to pressure from the local real estate agent association.

“The majority of residential fire deaths, such as this fatality in Highland Park, occur overnight when people are sleeping,” says Lia. “Too often, the fire can go undetected for several minutes before anyone awakes, doubling in size every minute. By the time homeowners finally awaken, their exits to escape may be blocked by fire and the smoke causes disorientation, quickly leading to smoke inhalation and eventually death.”

State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis and leaders in the fire service are currently banding together to update the State’s current edition of NFPA 101 Life Safety Code to the 2012 edition, which will require fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes and townhomes statewide. The code update will ensure that occupants in residential buildings will be better protected from fires, preventing deaths such as this in the future.

State Fire Marshal Matkaitis’ efforts to include residential fire sprinklers in Illinois code are supported by a National Fire Academy (NFA) program, “Sprinklering America: We Can, We Should, and We Must,” which is administered by U.S. Fire Administrator Ernie Mitchell. The program intends to “reinstill and motivate fire service alumni to pursue built-in passive sprinkler protection along with early warning devices” to support data that demonstrates that “such protection can reduce the residential fire problem by as much as 80-90 percent.”

“Better fire protection codes that include residential fire sprinklers in Illinois and nationwide will greatly reduce the loss of human lives. Our prayers go out to the family and friends of the fire victim in Highland Park,” adds Lia.

 

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