A young kid with a camera captured this video as firefighters in Loudoun County, Virginia pulled up to the scene of two closely built single family homes of lightweight construction burning on Saturday just before 5:00 PM. Three firefighters received minor injuries. Two other homes were damaged. The news reports don’t say, but I am imagine from melted siding.
I know this is nothing new to any of you who fight fires in suburbia (and it isn’t new to me), but how sad is it that there is such a large fire loss from a daytime fire. We can thank the great “progress” our nation’s home builders have made with construction techniques over the last 30 years for outcomes like this one. Scenes repeated all over the country every day. Disposable homes thanks to political leaders who choose the big money over protecting the people who elected them (yes I know, what a shock!).
Owning your own detached single family home used to mean, short of an explosion, you really didn’t have to worry about the fire safety of your neighbors. As I know many of you will tell me, this isn’t bad. They are lucky three or four homes weren’t cooking when firefighters arrived on Saturday. Maybe because these homes aren’t built quite as close to one another as other developments.
Folks in South Riding and all of the South Ridings across the country should be outraged. They should demand their political leaders say no to the home builders and stop them from building homes like this unless they include residential sprinklers. Of course that isn’t going to happen.
Below is raw video taken a little later in the operation.
And at the bottom of the page is a story I did in July, 2007 with Keith Brower, the current Loudoun County fire chief, when he was fire marshal. It compares two house fires that occurred on the same day. One of the homes was made the old fashioned way and the other was built like the homes in South Riding.
And by the way, would everyone please stop giving the youngster who was taking the video grief (I am talking about the people you hear on the video)? Lighten up and give the kid a break. I guess I am just grouchy tonight.
The 4:49 p.m. fire, which began in a home at 43341 Nicklaus Lane, caused an estimated $1 million in damage, according to Mary Maguire, public affairs officer for Loudoun Fire-Rescue Services.
ThA total of 22 occupants of the four affected homes were temporarily displaced by the blaze. Twelve of those occupants from two homes were able to return once electrical service was restored, Maguire said.
According to fire and emergency officials, the fire started when a resident carried a container of oil that had overheated on the stove to the garage and left it there. While it was sitting in the garage, the oil heated items in the garage to a smolder. When the garage door was opened, the incoming oxygen fueled the smoldering fire, causing it to spread quickly.
You may recall the story we ran in 2008 about Habitat for Humanity International supporting the National Association of Home Builders in opposing residential sprinklers. At the time Elizabeth Blake, senior vice president of advocacy, government affairs and legal with Habitat for Humanity said, "Our affiliates build all across the country and around the world. Mandating fire sprinklers fails to recognize their varying needs, and runs the risk of requiring something that may be impractical for some of our partner families. Habitat's mission is to provide simple, decent and affordable shelter for families. Each home we don't build due to an added and unjustified regulatory requirement such as this can leave yet another family in substandard housing."
Some state affiliates of Habitat have not followed the International's lead and have embraced sprinklers have had them installed in Habitat homes. Apparently that's not the case in Maryland and firefighters are taking a stand. Here's the story from the AP (with special thanks to my former colleague Jessica Glasser for sending us the story):
Some western Maryland firefighters are refusing to help Habitat for Humanity build a house meant to honor them unless a sprinkler system is added to the plans.
Must see video: One of our sharp readers must have been reading my mind. Even before I posted this column they sent me the video above. It is from Daybreak, Utah where a home fireworks show set the shooter's home on fire and injured a man and boy watching the display. Listen to the conversations of the neighbors. Read more about the incident. While some of the fireworks the Utah man was using have been described as illegal, the state has a new law that allows citizens the freedom to use aerial rockets that shoot up to 150 feet in the air (and, of course, the state refused to adopt residential sprinklers). Click here & here for other videos from this celebration of freedom in Daybreak.
At the same time another story from Maine caught my attention. Governor Paul LePage signed a bill into law Friday that eases a lot of the state's restrictions on consumer fireworks. It wasn't in time for this year's July 4th celebrations, but it will be for the next one. (My home state of Virginia almost did the same thing last year.)
I have a much different view about all of this. They are just more examples of big money from home builders and the fireworks lobbies winning the day over common sense about safety. Somehow I must have slept through the part of history class where one of the truths our founding fathers saw as self-evident is that the voice of the person with the deepest pockets is the one that counts.
Sorry, but I don't see being able to set my neighbor's house on fire with a flying missile and maim a few children along the way as an important freedom. Or is it freedom to stifle the voice of that state's expert in the field. And I don't see freedom as allowing the construction of houses with no fire barrier or effective suppression system, built so close together that a fire in my neighbor's house will more than likely take out mine and maybe a few others.
Prince William County (VA) Fire Chief Kevin McGee pointed out to me earlier this century that our founding fathers learned the hard way about the benefits of home separation, fire prevention and materials that can resist fire. Now, 235 years later we forget those important history lessons at the very same time we have been gutting firefighting forces across this great land.
And there is no doubt, despite what some will see as my negativity on this issue (and a few other issues about freedom), it IS a great land that we are celebrating today. Please remember all of those who are and have fought for our freedoms. They deserve our support, respect and admiration.
May I humbly suggest that we just keep in mind what those freedoms are really about and that they are not suddenly unimportant because of the passion of the moment or because the highest bidder wants to move us in a different direction.
On previous July 4ths I have told you about my 1993 trip to New York to see FDNY in action. Two videos from that trip with fire buff extraordinaire Vito Maggiolo are on this page.
One of the videos (above) is of a most unusual experience, the crash of a blimp. Here's what I wrote about that in 2007 (don't you love it when an ego driven blogger quotes himself?):
Independence Day in 1993 was one of the stranger days of my life. I had gone with my friend Vito Maggiolo to New York to experience July 4th, usually the busiest day of the year for FDNY.
In the afternoon we were visiting one of Vito’s friends at Manhattan Fire Alarm in Central Park.
As we were sitting around chatting, the phones suddenly began ringing. We were hearing bits and pieces of only one side of the conversation. But the call takers were asking questions with surprised looks on their faces. We heard: “A what?”; “Where”?; “It’s deflating?”; “Over the Hudson?”.
Vito and I raced south and then to the west toward the Hudson River. We arrived just after the first firefighters and saw Pizza Hut’s Bigfoot Pizza Blimp draped over the side of an apartment building. We watched as the two injured crew members were brought down from the roof.
The other video (above) is more relevant to today's column. It gives you a glimpse of Brooklyn at a time when citizens with massive amounts of fireworks helped make Independence Day the busiest day of the year for FDNY.
Here is what I wrote four years ago about my 1993 experience:
It seemed as if fireworks were going off on every street. Barrels of fireworks burned in the middle of many blocks. Bottle rockets struck our car. M-80s exploded in trash can after trash can. The radio blared with reports of neighbor’s homes set on fire by fireworks along with numerous reports of injured people.
On one hand it felt as if I had been transported to a war zone. I’ll admit, being new to this, it was a little scary. At the same time, it reminded me of something very beautiful — one of my favorite movies, Barry Levinson’s “Avalon”.
The scene of Russian immigrant Sam Krichinsky arriving in Baltimore on July 4th is repeated throughout the film. As he walks under exploding fireworks all around him, this is the voice-over dialogue:
I came to America in 1914–by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What welcome it was, what a welcome!
When firefighters from the City of Manassas and Prince William County arrived on the scene on Tillett Loop yesterday afternoon two, large single-family homes were already burning. Before long, a third was on fire and others were threatened. WUSA9.com reporter Peggy Fox reports a spokesman for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) said residential sprinklers would not have made a difference in this fire because it started on the outside of a home.
While acknowledging the difficulties presented by the fire starting on the outside, Manassas Fire Marshall Francis Teevan disagrees with NAHB. In the third video on this page Teevan says that sprinklers could have slowed the spread of this fire once it hit the interior of the first house. Teevan believes it might have given firefighters a chance to get ahead of the flames.
Click the image for more photos from Darryl Childress as firefighters arrived on the scene.
NAHB is the group that will also tell you about the dangers of water damage caused by sprinklers. Have of any of you seen residential sprinkler water damage to rival the destruction that occurred on Tillett Loop yesterday? Do you think NAHB will ask the residents which option they would prefer?
As in many previous fires in similarly built neighborhoods FM Teevan cited the usual contributing factors that, taken together, account for this conflagration: lightweight construction; exterior walls of vinyl siding over particle board; houses built too close together.
Unfortunately these homes and neighborhoods are built to code. Efforts by Virginia’s fire service to get residential sprinklers and other meaningful changes to the building code in an effort to prevent future neighborhoods from being built to burn have been unsuccessful. They have been thwarted by the building lobby, with NAHB leading the way.
In 2004 I looked at this issue in a two-part report called Too Close for Comfort (video at the very bottom of this page). The report was inspired by a similar fire in Prince William County six miles to the west of the one yesterday. Two years after that fire at 8659 Trenton Chapel Way, history repeated itself with another multi-home fire that began at 8671 Trenton Chapel Way. Click here for video of the 2006 fire.
The day before the Tillett Loop fire three people died in a fire in a townhouse cluster in Lorton, Virginia. One can imagine that residential sprinklers may have prevented that tragedy from occuring. But there is something else that is relevant to this discussion. As much fire as there was in the home of origin in Lorton the fire did not spread. Remember, the other homes in Lorton adjoin the one that burned and weren’t 12 or 16 feet away as in Manassas. Of course, the difference is the Lorton structure was built in 1973 and the Manassas homes were built almost 30-years later. Is that progress?
Maybe it’s time for the victims of these firestorms to show up on the door step at NAHB headquarters and get a first hand explanation as to why residential sprinklers and improved fire barriers on outside walls are such a bad thing. There’s more below.
Firefighters could not stop the blaze from burning three houses to the ground and damaging five more in Manassas. People who live nearby watched in astonishment as the fire gained momentum.
“It was crazy. The fire jumped from house to house, the wind just blew it,” said Renee Qura.
The flames didn’t have very far to go.
“They are very close. Too close together, ” Qura said.
Angel Verdun said that several years ago, they had looked at buying a home in this neighborhood, but did because her husband felt there wasn’t enough space between the homes.
Manassas Fire Marshal Francis Teevan says the closeness of the home contributed to the fire’s rapid spread, ” We’re looking at ten to sixteen feet between these houses. Certainly if you were on lots larger, a quarter to a half acre, you wouldn’t see the type of spread that we have here.”
And, he says, the exterior walls are within code, but have the lowest rating for fire prevention.
“Here you have particle board over vinyl siding, which burns very fast.”
The homes also have no sprinklers, they’re not required to, but the issue is under heated debate. A spokesperson for the National Home Builders Association says sprinklers cannot stop fire when it comes from outside a building and would not have helped stop the spread in this care. Teevan disagrees.
“It came from the outside, which means it went inside. So as soon as it would hit the first barrier of sprinklers, and we have water application, we probably could have held the fire in check at that point until the fire department came and extinguished it the rest of the way,” said Teevan.
Teevan is also the president of the Virginia Fire Prevention Association.
25 firefighters treated at White Plains, NY commercial fire: A half block of downtown White Plains burned yesterday and during the fire a nearby manhole exploded. The firefighters suffered from smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion and heart palpitations. Click here for details and pictures of the fire.
Looks like they are going to have lots to talk about on C Shift at Station 1: Some baseball fans expecting to see a foul ball drop down from the sky instead saw a firefighter do just that. FF/PM Tyler Morris of the Lake Cities Fire Department in Corinth, Texas fell 30-feet while trying to grab a ball during Tuesday night’s game. Co-workers with Morris at the game say he is going to be okay. Nolan Ryan was among the visitors at the hospital. Check it out.
No life safety problem, no fire protection: Many property owners on Bradford Island in California were under the impression they had fire protection when a fire took hold of multiple homes. They were wrong. The East Contra Fire Protection District responded a number of times but is not authorized to spring into action unless there are people in immediate danger. There’s a lot more to the story. Click here.
Must read stories about a Montana firefighter who faced two emergencies on vacation, saved a brother firefighter and now may lose his job: Whitefish, Montana FF/PM Ben Parsons was in Oregon for the Father’s Day Test of Endurance race. After a strong finish in the race he spotted a grill on a wooden porch that was about to catch a home on fire. Parsons did what he could and asked a friend to go to the fire truck parked around the corner and alert the firefighter to the problem. The friend then told Parsons to respond to the rig because the firefighter who was with it was in cardiac arrest. Thanks to Parsons and others, the firefighter is alive. That’s part one of the story that you can find here. Returning home Parsons now has to face reality about his career choice. Ben Parsons may lose his job by the end of the month due to budget cuts. Read that story. Thank you Butch Weedon for alerting us to this story.
Man arrested for getting physical over his complaint about fire tactics: In Greeley, Colorado earlier this week a man began shoving one firefighter and knocking the facepiece off another because he didn’t like the way they were fighting the fire. The chief says they were concentrating the limited water supply from a dead end hydrant on protecting what wasn’t burning. Read more.
On the mend: One of four Sacramento firefighters injured in a house explosion has been released from the hospital. Read details. Also home from the hospital, a North Charleston, SC firefighter injured when the roof collapsed at a house fire. Here’s more.
Sprinklers in Baltimore County: Now that I am no longer a reporter, I can come out of the closet on one bias of mine. STATter911.com is very much pro-residential sprinklers and will work on behalf of that goal where I can. That’s why we are happy to report Baltimore County is the latest Maryland jurisdiction to require sprinklers during a vote of the County Council yesterday. Great work by the Baltimore County Fire Department, the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office and others. Read the unbiased version of the story here.
FDNY gets a perfect score in annual double dipping probe (and that’s a good thing): In New York you can’t get a government pension and a government salary at the same time. The latest review found no firefighters in violation. Click here for the story.
Ft. Lauderdale museum: Martin Grube’s FireRescueTV takes a trip south to visit The Fort Lauderdale Fire & Safety Museum inside Station 3. Here’s the video.
25 dead and four missing in mine explosion: We have the latest details from overnight in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Click here.
It is out of here: This mural in the back of a bay at a Vancouver, B.C. firehouse was ordered removed after the local civil liberties association found it offensive. Yes, you read that correctly. A civil liberties group wanted it banished. As I recall, the ACLU in Washington defended a firefighter who posted an "offensive" cartoon in the fire station. Anyway, click the image to read more.
Colorado firefighters protest arrest: About three dozen firefighters showed up at the Lake County courthouse yesterday to express their displeasure over the handcuffing of Battalion Captain Dan Dailey during an EMS call inside the Lake County jail. Still no details on last night’s scheduled meeting about the ongoing dispute over who will provide fire and EMS coverage in the area. No decision has been made on pursuing charges against Capt. Dailey. Here is more from the Denver Post. Our previous coverage is here and here.
Burned Illinois firefighter pays respects at wake: Brought in by ambulance, Karra Kopas was at last night’s wake for Village of Homewood Firefighter Brian Carey. Read more. Watch the story.
More on the taunting and firefighter assault in Pennsylvania: Click here to watch the story about the ugly scene in Penn Hills. A member of the Thad Stevens VFD was attacked walking home from the firehouse following a taunting and rock throwing incident during a firehouse cook out.
Massachusetts deputy chief just watches it burn: After making sure everyone was out, Weymouth Fire Department Deputy Chief Joseph Davis could do nothing more than wait for the first fire engine to arrive. With the closest fire company closed and another on a call, the chief believe the delay allowed the fire to spread significantly. Here’s the story.
The Maine squeeze: Sanford Fire Marshal Peter Cutrer is pushing back in the battle with home builders over residential sprinklers. He is fighting fire with fires. Two of them, to be exact. Firegeezer has the story.
Early video from Missouri house fire: Unless you are into POV response videos you might want to scroll forward to about three minutes. At that point you will see a firefighter and police using a nearby ladder to help someone from the second floor of a burning home in West Plains. The fire is labeled as suspicious.The West Plains Fire Department has more than 100 photos from this fire on Friday. Click here.
Your moment of Firehouse Zen: Make sure you read what Mick Mayers has to say about some recent stories of firefighters behaving badly, the report from the Cumberland Valley Volunter Firemen’s Association and what chiefs should be taking away from all of this. Here it is.
Geezer on home builders: Bill puts on his legal hat (he just plays a lawyer on the Internet) to warn home builders in Pennsylvania that they might want to be careful about the arguments they are making in court to try and stop residential sprinklers. Click here.
Man claims discrimination on treatment following crash in blizzard: Spotsylvania County, Virginia officals say they are investigating Tim Johnson’s complaint that he was virtually ignored at a crash scene during one of last month’s snow storms. Johnson, who is black, believes he didn’t receive the same care that people in another car did. Dan Telvock has the story at Fredericksburg.com.
Judge believes union president & vice president fired for union activities: A judge isn’t buying that Angela Rice and Richard Nihizer were breaking any rules when they watched videos with violence and explicit language on a computer inside the firehouse in Butler Township, Ohio. It’s a story we first reported in January of 2008. Apparently no porn was involved and rulings indicate the there were no good guidelines on exactly what was allowed and what wasn’t. The pair have again been ordered reinstated. Here’s the latest.
The damage. Courtesy Chief Greg Jakubowski, Lingohocken Fire Company.
Here’s a Christmas tale worth retelling, sent by email from Chief Greg Jakubowski of the Lingohocken Fire Company in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. With a nod to Dr. Seuss, we shall call it How the Residential Sprinkler System Saved Christmas. Maybe it will be told all through the land each holiday and legislative season:
A few minutes before 1 pm on Christmas Day, several dozen firefighters from the Lingohocken and Warwick Fire Cos. (Bucks County, PA Stations 35, 95 and 66) were dispatched to a home in the 3100 block of Rushland Road in Wrightstown Township for a report of a fire in an attached garage of a 3-year old house. An accidental fire had ignited in some storage in the garage and began to spread. There were 2 cars in the 3-bay garage, including a Ford Escape and a Mercedes CLK 320. Normally, this incident would require deploying all of these firefighters, and perhaps more, for 1-2 hours to control and fully extinguish the fire, which would have likely spread to the storage, vehicles, and tools in the garage, and possibly to the master bedroom located directly above the garage. The home is located in an area that would require firefighters to truck water in, as there are no hydrants nearby. Damage most likely would have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the residents would have likely had to relocate for weeks while their home was being repaired.
However, thanks to the foresight of the Wrightstown Township supervisors, and the efforts of the fire marshal’s office in Wrightstown, this home was equipped with residential sprinklers, including in the garage area. One sprinkler activated, fully extinguishing the fire prior to the fire department’s arrival, 7 minutes after the call. Instead of 30-40 firefighters being in service for several hours, a single crew of 6 firefighters was able to check for extension (there was none) and remove the damaged items from the house. A 2 liter soda bottle that was half full and located 2 feet from the point of origin, had partially melted, but never spilled the soda. The contents of the garage suffered several thousand dollars of damage, a far cry from the damage without sprinklers. There were no injuries to the residents, nor to firefighters. The volunteer firefighters returned to celebrate the holiday with their families in under 45 minutes, and the homeowner and his family were able to finish their celebration in their home after a bit of cleanup.
Pennsylvania is the first state in the country to adopt new model codes that require sprinklers in all new townhouses that will be built after January 1, 2010, and all new residences built after January 1, 2011. Several Bucks County communities already have their own ordinances in place – and these sprinklers are saving lives and property right now in these communities.