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Officials push for home sprinkler systems
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Focusing on fire prevention


October is National Fire Prevention Safety Month, and with the weather growing cooler, Dawson County Emergency Services encourages the community to use caution as they begin heating their homes this fall and winter season.


The high cost of home heating fuels and utilities has caused many Americans to search for alternate sources of home heating. The use of fireplaces, wood burning stoves and space heaters is rapidly growing. The misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters and kerosene heaters are major contributing factors in residential fires.


Here are a few tips designed to prevent heating-ignited fires:


Wood stoves


• Carefully follow the manufacturer’s installation and maintenance instructions.


• Check for cracks and inspect legs, hinges and door seals for smooth joints and seams.


• Use only seasoned wood for fuel, not green wood, artificial logs or trash.


• Have your chimney and pipes professionally inspected and cleaned annually and check monthly for damage and obstructions.


Electric space heaters


• Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories.


• Check to make sure it has a thermostat control mechanism, and will switch off automatically if the heater falls over. Space heaters need space; keep combustibles at least three feet away from each heater.


• Always unplug your electric space heater when not in use.


Kerosene heaters


• Buy only heaters evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory.


• Check with your local fire department on the legality of kerosene heater use in your community.


• Never fill your heater with gasoline or camp stove fuel; both flare-up easily.


• Only use Crystal Clear K-1 Kerosene.


• Never overfill any portable heater.


• Use the heater in a well ventilated room.




• Have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned annually.


• Check to ensure the damper is open before starting any fire.


• Never burn trash, paper, or green wood.


• Use a screen heavy enough to stop rolling logs and big enough to cover the entire opening of the fireplace to catch flying sparks.


• Make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.


• Store cooled ashes in a tightly sealed metal container outside the home.


Source: U.S. Fire Administration

In 2007, an estimated 78 percent of all structural fires occurred in residences, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.


While U.S. fire deaths have dramatically declined over the last three decades, due to the number of smoke alarms in homes, fire officials across the country believe a new measure in residential construction could further their lifesaving efforts.


Last month, 73 percent of the members of the International Code Council voted in favor of an ordinance that would require sprinkler systems in every new residence in the country.


“Sprinklers are the single biggest advantage in fire safety in the past 30 years, when smoke detectors came out,” said Dawson County Fire Inspector Capt. Jeff Bailey, one of four delegates from Dawson County Emergency Services who traveled to Minneapolis for the vote.


“Smoke detectors increase safety tremendously, but they only warn people. Sprinklers put fire out or bide more time for help to arrive or to react to it. I want to see a sprinkler system in every new home in the county,” he said.


Voting on the important life saving measure, Bailey said, was “a privilege and an honor. We went representing the taxpayers’ best interest in fire safety.”


Fire services across the country have lobbied for years to pass the ordinance, while home builders and developers have fought against the measure, saying the added cost of sprinklers would make homes unaffordable. 


The U.S. Fire Administration objects to the claim, adding a sprinkler system cost one to two percent of the total construction costs, comparable to what many people pay for carpet upgrades, a paved driveway or a whirlpool bath.


Kaaren Mann, a fire safety advocate and the mother of a fire victim stated in her testimony in favor of the ordinance, “The cost to put sprinklers into a home where my daughter died would have been less than what I had to pay for the flowers at her funeral.”


The sprinkler mandate will first appear in the 2009 International Residential Code, which will be published by the end of the year. Forty-six states use the IRC as the basis of regulating new home construction.


“We’re now going to move forward at the state and local level to ensure new code requirement is adopted,” said Ronny Coleman, president of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition.


The 2009 International Code, which is merely a model code document, will require sprinklers in new one- and two-family residences as of Jan. 1, 2011.


While the code will go into affect in 2011, it does not become law in any jurisdiction until the local governments conduct an adoption process.


Ultimately, the decision to adopt the sprinkler requirement will rest with the jurisdiction’s administrative or legislative body charged with adoption of the new code, Bailey said.


Scottsdale, Ariz. was the first major U.S. jurisdiction to require residential sprinklers more than 20 years ago and now has more than 40,000 homes protected by sprinkler systems.


“Today, more than 95 percent of homes in the country have smoke alarms,” Bailey said. “In 10-15 years, sprinklers in homes will be the same, something people expect.”


E-mail Michele Hester at