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Comment: Add sprinklers to Christmas wish list

At the risk of preaching to the converted, the next few weeks have to be among the scariest on the calendar for Canada’s fire services. You all know it’s stupid and dangerous for people to take the batteries out of their smoke detectors or come home after a few too many pops and turn on the deep fryer for some late night fries and then fall asleep.

December 5, 2008
By Laura King


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At the risk of preaching to the converted, the next few weeks have to be among the scariest on the calendar for Canada’s fire services. You all know it’s stupid and dangerous for people to take the batteries out of their smoke detectors or come home after a few too many pops and turn on the deep fryer for some late night fries and then fall asleep. Or sit around a camp fire that never gets properly extinguished with the resulting bush fire triggering an evacuation.

But add to that the seasonal ritual of putting a fir tree in the house for two or three weeks, stringing it with electrical wires, lighting candles and enjoying some holiday spirits. Like I said, I’m singing to the choir.

A new report by the United States Fire Administration identifies the benefits of residential sprinklers in containing the heat release from Christmas trees. (It’s cleverly titled Impact of a Residential Sprinkler on the Heat Release Rate of a Christmas Tree Fire.)

The study found that even a single sprinkler was able to prevent a flashover and, in many instances, put out a fire before the firefighters arrived. And, while you’re making the pre-Christmas fire safety education speeches don’t forget to point out the importance of watering the tree. The study also found that high moisture content in the needles goes a long way to slow or even stop the spread of fire.

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Dan Madrzykowski, a fire protection engineer with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, laid out a primary and seemingly obvious conclusion. “This project’s experiments demonstrate that a small amount of water can have a significant impact on a fire.”

The study landed in my e-mail in box a couple of weeks ago along with the barrage of daily press releases but caught my eye because I was in the middle of editing a story on residential sprinklers. It’s cricual that we get the message out. It’s that time of year. Dry trees, electrical wires, paper and gift wrap, candles, fireplaces . . . it’s a wonder the trucks aren’t rolling 24/7.

So, here’s a wish for good luck and smart ratepayers this holiday season. Not every tragedy is inevitable. Fire education makes a difference.

As I sign off on the final editorial of 2008, I want to thank the writers, photographers and others who have helped build the content of our magazines and website. I know from your calls and e-mails that these pages serve as an industry gathering place. We’re proud of that.

Thanks also to the many people who took time to share their stories and concerns, to educate me on the challenges and priorites and the successes and failures of the Canadian fire services. It means a great deal to me to have your time and trust.

To everyone else, thanks for reading. We appreciate it.

Here’s a wish to everyone for a happy, healthy, prosperous and safe 2009. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas.

One other quick note, Steve Kraft’s Your Call column will return in February.


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