'Without the fire sprinkler system, this fire would have grown before we arrived and would have caused severe damage to the structure and displaced several tenants.' -Captain Nikki Hietschmidt

COURTESY PHOTO: HOME FIRE SPRINKLER COALITION - Fire sprinkler.Canby Fire responded to a fire at an apartment complex on Thursday, July 26 and were relieved to find the fire sprinkler system had prevented a much worse scenario.

The fire occurred at 1 a.m. on the balcony of a third story apartment at Willamette Grove Apartments on North Pine Street in Canby, according to Battalion Chief and Public Information Officer Todd Gary. Crews were initially dispatched to a general fire alarm, but as they were on their way, it was upgraded to a commercial fire.

When Canby Fire arrived, the flames had already been stopped, Gary said. The tenants of the apartment had awoken to the fire and rushed to retrieve the fire extinguisher outside their door. By the time they returned to the balcony fire, the fire sprinkler had contained the flames. The tenant used the extinguisher to stop the fire completely.

"Without the fire sprinkler system, this fire would have grown before we arrived and would have caused severe damage to the structure and displaced several tenants," said Captain Nikki Hietschmidt, who was on scene. "All the safety devices—working smoke alarms, fire sprinklers and properly placed fire extinguishers—at this apartment complex made a difference tonight."

Upon arrival, Canby Fire checked to ensure there weren't any hot spots and moved items from the balcony to prevent reigniting.

Gary reiterated the importance of the fire sprinklers that night, noting that without them the fire surely would have spread.

"Those people would have been out of a place to live," Gary said.

COURTESY PHOTO: HOME FIRE SPRINKLER COALITION - Pictured is a side by side burn demonstration.

Gary said that a fire sprinkler system, while not required by Oregon state law, is a long-term investment that protects families.

The Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal agrees, saying it believes sprinklers can save lives, not just in multi-family housing but also in single family dwellings, according to a release on the SFM website. The office is so committed to this idea that it joined forces with the Oregon Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition with a mission to promote the installation of home fire sprinklers to save lives and property, per the release.

Coalition Chair Chase Browning explained that the national model residential code has been requiring sprinklers since 2009, but states have the power to control their own building code. Many states, including Oregon, remove the sprinkler requirement from their state's code.

Some of the hindrances the coalition faces in getting sprinklers into more single family homes are misconceptions about the cost of sprinklers and misconceptions about water damage resulting from sprinklers. In new construction, sprinkler systems cost about $1.35 per square foot, comparable to granite countertops or a carpet upgrade. Browning noted that insurance companies often offer deductions for fire sprinklers, and he sought to dispel concerns over water damage.

"[Sprinklers] control a fire when it's small, so the damage for a sprinklered fire is often substantially less cost than repairing damage from fire incidents that don't include sprinklers," Browning said.

Browning also pointed to the safety statistics associated with fire sprinklers.

For example, according to the National Fire Protection Association, the death rate per 1,000 reported fires was 87 percent lower in properties with sprinklers than in properties with no automatic extinguishing systems.

For more information on the coalition and home fire sprinklers, visit the coalition's website.

Kristen Wohlers
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