by: Submitted Photo, Jeff Johnson

Residential fire sprinklers save lives. Why is this important? Because the holiday season is upon us, which according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office, is a time when there is an increase in residential fires due to heating equipment, chimney fires, caandles, holiday decorations and cooking.

Every holiday season, we are reminded about taking fire safety precautions - such as having an escape plan and ensuring our homes are equipped with working smoke alarms. Without question, an escape plan and smoke alarms are effective in saving lives in a residential fire. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that alarms improve the chance of surviving a fire by 50 percent.

But, here's the rest of the story that you may not know. The NFPA also reports that alarms, when combined with a home sprinkler system, together increase survival rates by more than 97 percent! Indeed, reports show that there has never been any multiple loss of life in a fully sprinkled building. These statistics alone speak to the powerful lifesaving difference of residential fire sprinklers.

With such compelling figures, why then doesn't every home have fire sprinklers installed? Some long-held misconceptions about fire sprinklers may be hindering builders and homeowners alike from considering the addition of fire sprinklers in new home construction. It's time to set the record straight:

Myth: Sprinkler systems are expensive to install. Fact: Nationally, home fire sprinklers on average add 1 to 1-½ percent of the total building cost in new construction - about equal to a carpet upgrade. Plus, insurance discounts can help offset the cost of installation.

Myth: If one sprinkler goes off, then they all go off. Fact: Sprinkler heads are designed to react to temperature in each room. Only the sprinkler closest to the fire will activate, and 90 percent of fires are contained by the operation of just one sprinkler, reducing water damage to the home.

Myth: The sprinklers may go off accidentally. Fact: Loss records show that the probability of a sprinkler accidentally discharging due to a manufacturing defect is 1 in 16 million sprinklers per year in service.

Myth: Sprinklers can cause extensive water damage. Fact: Home fire sprinkler systems use only a fraction of the water used by fire department hoses. In fact, fire hoses, on average, use 8 ½ times more water than sprinklers do to contain a fire.

Myth: Home sprinkler systems are unsightly. Fact: Due to new technological advances, all residential fire sprinklers come in colors to match ceiling and wall colors, can be recessed and even covered with a matching plate to blend into the background of any room.

Myth: A smoke detector is enough protection. Fact: Smoke detectors save lives by providing a much-needed warning system, but they cannot extinguish a growing fire. And sadly, all too often, battery operated detectors fail to function because the batteries are dead or have been removed.

In 2005, 27 Oregonians died in home fires. And more than $58 million was incurred in property damage - costs borne by both homeowners and insurers. But the true cost of residential fires can barely be counted. Homes lost, lives lost, treasured memories and peace of mind lost.

As we enter the season of giving and turn toward a new year, we are urging Oregonians to add the installation of residential fire sprinklers to their 'must have' lists for 2007. It is such a simple step to take, yet it will make a big difference for the safety of your home and family.

Jeff Johnson is the fire chief of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue and president of the Western Fire Chiefs Association. For more information, visit

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