New home designs combined with highly combustible contents have created a perfect storm of increased risk to occupants and firefighter sin the pas 20 years.
Unprotected, pre-engineered floors fail more quickly in fire conditions. Modern contents have changed compartment-fire dynamics such that flashover can occur within minutes.
The burning of modern contents produces products that are more toxic than those of legacy materials.
Our understanding of the chemical persistence in the environment of fire retardants is now resulting in these products being banned by legislation.
Despite advancements in bunker gear for heat protection, and SCBA for respiratory protection, research from the University of Ottawa and others is proving how vulnerable firefighters are to smoke at the microbiological level. It is therefore not coincidental that cancers are the leading cause of firefighter fatalities. A University of Fraser Valley study found that 86 per cent of all firefighter workplace fatality claims were blamed on cancer, and firefighters are killed by cancer at a rate about three times higher than the general population. Suppressing fires at the earliest stages mitigates these hazards.
The National Research Council, in a series of tests on the fire performance of Canadian housing, has helped to validate the benefits of residential fire sprinklers.
Tests on floor performance that included sprinklers proved that fire sprinklers extinguished the fires in all cases. At no time did the floors collapse, and never were the fire conditions untenable for the occupants. There has been proof of this in jurisdictions that have adopted sprinkler ordinances. Sprinklers suppress or contain residential fires until firefighters can ensure the structure is safe for occupants to re-enter. Lives are saved.
Fires will still occur. Modern construction does not make our homes any more fire safe, because it is what we do in our homes that cause fire. An increase in fire sprinkler installs, starting with new home builds, will decrease the size and severity of the fires we experience. We can reduce fatalities of occupants but also firefighter injuries and fatalities. Any new home built in Canada should have home fire sprinklers.