Grenfell Tragedy: Call to Retrofit High-Rise Bldgs with Fire Sprinklers (Video)

By Joanne Genadio, The National Fire Sprinkler Association Editor

When is Enough Enough?

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Sir Winston Churchill

It is with sad irony that this now-famous quote by Winston Churchill, arguably the most famous British Prime Minister, took on special meaning on June 14th.

The death toll continues to rise as the result of the now-infamous Grenfell Towers fire in London, and reverberations can be heard around the world.

The high-rise was not equipped with fire sprinklers, which would have mitigated the fire and allowed residents time to escape.

(London stopped this morning to remember the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Police said today that 79 people are now feared dead. Courtesy of ODN and YouTube)

In March of 2015, NFSA President Shane Ray wrote an article for Firehouse Magazine entitled “The Fire”: Let’s Learn from What They Teach Us, where he asks the question, “Why do we continue to wait for a tragedy to take action?”

The London tragedy is proof that we still have not answered this question.

In perhaps the most telling paragraph of his article, Ray goes on to say, “There have been a lot of recent tragedies where communities, people and fire departments are referring to “The Fire.”

Shane Ray, NFSA President
Shane Ray, NFSA President

“Whether it’s a large property loss fire where no one died, but 400 people are out of their homes, a high-rise fire with one death or six deaths, a mansion fire with three generations lost or a dozen fatalities a day in single-family dwellings, we have a duty to act against “The Fire.”

“Maybe we will get someone to put all “The Fire” stories together and reenergize us all to take action.”

“With our aging population and the fact that the Millennials are more in numbers than the Baby Boomers, will we understand our duty? We should try to make sure “The Fire” is only in history.”

Unfortunately, two years after this article was published, “The Fire,” as of this writing, occurred only six days ago.

On May 15, 2017 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the site of another fatal high-rise fire, when a seven-alarm blaze began on the sixth floor of an unsprinklered 18-story apartment building.

A 75-year old woman lost her life, 3 firefighters and several residents were injured. Fire officials had called for sprinklers to be installed in the building nearly two decades ago, in 1999, after a fire on the 13th floor.

(One person is dead and several others were injured in a seven-alarm fire inside the Midtown Towers in Downtown Pittsburgh. Courtesy of CBS Pittsburgh and YouTube. Posted May 15, 2017.)

At that time, acting fire chief Peter Micheli called it a “classic example” of why sprinklers are needed in high rises.

Sprinklers have been around for about 100 years now — a little more. And in that 100-year time, there has never been a fatality as a result of fire in a building with a working sprinkler system,” current Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl E. Jones said.

He advocated tougher sprinkler requirements but, unfortunately, he stated that he doesn’t “have any control over that.”

Like many places across the U.S., Pittsburgh is an old city. The high rise that caught fire was over 100 years old.

The code requirement for sprinklers in high-rise structures did not become universal in the United States until the 1990s.

It is imperative that states adopt code changes that would call for retrofitting of all high-rises built without fire sprinklers, especially those people live in.

Pushback to requiring retrofit is rampant from some housing associations across the country, all the more reason to educate and involve all stakeholders of the life- and property-saving benefits of fire sprinkler systems.

Jim Eichenlaub, executive director of the Builders Association and Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh
Jim Eichenlaub, executive director of the Builders Association and Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh

In the wake of the Pittsburgh fire, Jim Eichenlaub, executive director of the Builders Association and Apartment Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, is quoted as saying, “There are a lot of other public policy and issues that need to be considered before moving forward with that type of action.

Immediately after fire there were indications from opponents that they would be willing to entertain the idea.

The National Fire Sprinkler Association is in full support of working with all stakeholders in improving fire and life safety especially in high-rise buildings.

The Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (H.R. 1481) as introduced in Congress would give incentives for owners to retrofit older buildings by allowing increased depreciation on their taxes.

As the 115th Congress takes up this issue, with tax reform on the table as well, there will be several excuses removed as to why we don’t protect residents from fires in this modern time.

(Learn More, courtesy of The National Fire Sprinkler Association and YouTube)

Let’s all work together to support fire professionals.

As we all know, there is no price that can be placed on a life or the trauma of the experience of this type of event! We are secure in the knowledge that the families and friends of the victims and survivors of high-rise fires would agree.

May the headlines from the aftermath of the Grenfell Towers fire sear into the brains of all those who doubt or oppose the retrofitting of fire sprinklers into high rises:

  • Terrified children scrawled ‘help’ on ash stained windows, eyewitness reveals 

  • ‘I LOVE YOU MUM’ Grenfell Tower fire – Italian couple’s heartbreaking final phone call as fire crept into their home on 23rd floor – as official death toll rises to 30

  • ‘Frantically banging and screaming’: Witnesses say children dropped from high rise in London fire

(79 people presumed dead in Grenfell Tower fire, police confirm; five have been formally identified. Courtesy of BBC and YouTube. Posted June 16, 2017.)

We should never see headlines such as those from the aftermath of the Grenfell Towers fire, or opposition to the retrofitting of fire sprinklers into high-rises in 2017 or beyond.

Will this tragedy be the one to open the minds of the resistance? We leave off with this telling paragraph from Ray’s article.

“Make sure your community has adopted or is on the path to adopting the latest codes and standards.

“Make sure you are inspecting all occupancies you possibly can and make sure the testing, maintenance and inspections on existing facilities are conducted.”

“Public information officers can work with public educators to get the education messages out to target audiences.”

Joanne Genadio, NFSM Editor
Joanne Genadio, NFSM Editor

“There is plenty for us all to do, so let’s be ready for “The Fire” and let’s make it history. As the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) shares, “Fire Is Everyone’s Fight,” and we should make it real in that sense. Let’s get involved and change the headline.”

By Joanne Genadio, NFSM Editor

Original post

Learn More…

“It is unfortunate that it too often takes this kind of tragedy to remind us all that fire sprinklers can at the very least mitigate, and often prevent, loss of life and property,” says Shane Ray, NFSA President.

“We join with our colleagues in the United Kingdom in a worldwide call to all decision-makers to adopt new rules and regulations requiring the retrofitting of high-rise buildings with fire sprinkler systems.”

“These types of fires shouldn’t be at this magnitude in 2017 and we’ve known it for decades”.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has found that, when sprinklers operated, they were effective 96 percent of the time.

While we do not have complete details about the nature of the fire at Grenfell Tower, we believe it’s safe to say that the presence of a sprinkler system would have had a mitigating impact on the fire.

Here in the United States, there are more than 14,000 high-rise structure fires annually, according to the NFPA. While many of these fires occur in structures that have sprinkler systems, the United States has far too many older buildings that do not have sprinklers and are not being retrofitted.

“Grenfell Tower is a sad reminder that we all still have a long way to go toward making these kinds of facilities safer for the people who work and live in them,” continues Ray.

“Fire sprinklers are effective and affordable, most importantly, fire sprinklers give occupants more time to escape and firefighters support in containing the fire.”

(See the Fresno Fire Department as they host training exercises for a month in downtown Fresno high rise buildings. Courtesy of thefresnobee and YouTube)

To understand the issue in relation to the London Fire, please see the research conducted in 2012 by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA).

The Association commissioned a report on the economics of fire sprinkler retrofit in residential apartment blocks of this type.

The study concluded that fire sprinklers could be retrofitted with tenants in place at a cost of about £1150 per flat.

Since the 24-story Grenfell Tower contained 120 flats, BAFSA reports that a fire sprinkler system could have been installed for less than 2 percent of the £10 million spent on refurbishment of the tower just last year, money that was wasted considering that the tower now appears to be a total loss.

The BAFSA report, entitled Safer High-Rise Living, the Callow Mount Sprinkler Retrofit Project, can be accessed at

National Fire Protection AssociationThe National Fire Sprinkler Association’s mission is “to protect lives and property from fire through the widespread acceptance of the fire sprinkler concept.”

NFSA wants to create a more fire-safe world, and works to heighten the awareness of the importance of fire sprinkler systems from homes to high-rises and all occupancies in between.

The Association is an inclusive organization made up of dedicated and committed members of a progressive lifesaving industry.

This industry manufactures, designs, supplies, installs, inspects and services the world’s most effective system in saving lives and property from uncontrolled structural fires.

Learn More…

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