June 1, 2012, Toronto – In his May 30 letter to the National Post, OPFFA president Fred LeBlanc makes some valid points, but also some that are of dubious validity or at least coloured by association politics. Specifically;
“The OPFFA supports the sprinklering of all seniors’ residences in the province, and we have never advocated against this. What we do advocate is caution against the view that sprinklers are the complete solution to ensuring safety in seniors’ residences or any other structure.”
Excellent. Right on. Sprinklers are one part of a comprehensive fire protection strategy.
“Sprinklers may buy firefighters time by suppressing fire, but they don’t suppress the resulting smoke, which is the real killer in structural fires.”
True and false. Sprinklers buy time for firefighters and occupants, by suppressing fire AND the resulting smoke. Less fire produces less smoke. Yes, smoke is the real killer, and the effectiveness of sprinklers in reducing loss of life is largely due to their ability to reduce smoke propagation.
“On occasion, sprinklers fail for mechanical reasons and due to human error. A properly staffed and resourced FULL-TIME (my emphasis here) fire department will always be on the scene in minutes with the staffing necessary to suppress fire and rescue and evacuate those in need. Communities that believe increased sprinklering is a valid reason for having an under-resourced fire department are literally playing with fire.”
“On occasion” is a true if imprecise description of sprinkler failure rates. According to the newsletter of the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, “Insurance statistics indicate a failure rate of approximately 1 head failure per 16,000,000 sprinklers installed per year. Sprinkler components and systems are among the most tested systems in an average building. Failure of a proper system is very remote.” So, if you wish to describe odds longer than winning Lotto 6/49 or being hit by lightning as “on occasion”, the statement is technically correct.
As for fire department staffing being reduced in favour of sprinklers – this is not at issue in this debate. LeBlanc is inserting an unnecessary scare tactic into the mix. Also, by advocating only full-time fire departments, he is making the situation worse in many cases. Any municipality with a population under about 60,000 people cannot maintain a full-time fire department which would have adequate staffing under NFPA 1710 to respond to any structure fire, let alone a fire at a seniors’ residence. This single-minded and narrow view of community fire protection essentially trades an effective force of dedicated volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters for a dozen on-shift dues-paying OPFFA members operating on an understaffed and unsafe fire ground.
All fire service stakeholders should be united behind the Muskoka Heights jury recommendations without attempting to spin the debate for their own political purposes.