UA Fire Sprinkler Union Pledges to Prevent Fire Tragedies

Following the tragedy at the Sofa Super Store warehouse in Charleston, SC, that resulted in nine firefighter fatalities, the United Association (UA) Fire Sprinkler Fitters Union has pledged to work closely with fire service and building department groups to upgrade codes and make buildings safer for occupants and firefighters.

According to reports, the fast-spreading fire burned uncontrolled until firefighters arrived. The severely undermined structure collapsed, killing the firefighters. The building was not protected with a fire sprinkler system. Fire sprinklers are designed to react to fire's heat and discharge water automatically and early on, to control the fire and slow the spread of flames, heat and smoke.

Officials in South Carolina have stated the building was not sprinklered because it was built before codes were in place to require fire sprinkler systems.

"We need to remove the deadliest fire code of them all, the 'grandfather clause'," said John Zubricks, Business Manager of UA Local 281 in Chicago. "We support the fire service and building officials who want to upgrade their codes. They need our help to educate elected officials and legislators so they understand why there is a need to do away with dangerous 'grandfather clauses' that permit the lack of fire safety measures or allow for substandard measures to exist," he added.

"Unfortunately, it typically takes tragedies such as this before policymakers start to look at their codes," Zubricks said. "We grieve along with all those people directly affected by the needless deaths of these firefighters," said Stan Smith, UA Local 483, San Francisco. "Our prayers are for each of the deceased firefighters, and our sincerest thoughts go to their family members, friends and fellow firefighters."

"As fitters, we work closely with members of the fire service. Because it is our job to install these live-saving systems, it's extremely frustrating when we hear of a fire death in a building that's not protected. It's even more frustrating when there are multiple deaths," said Brad Karbowsky, Business Manager, UA Local 669, Columbia, MD. "Data shows that there have never been multiple deaths in buildings protected with fire sprinklers."

Smith said legislators may count on firefighters to do the unthinkable and run into burning buildings; but firefighters are not expendable. "They deserve and need all our support for improving their chances when the fire alarm rings."

For decades, national fire safety experts have recognized that fire sprinkler systems provide an incomparable level of fire protection to occupants and first responders, and that their use should be increased. One
of the earliest and most prominent examples of this is America Burning -- the watershed report published in 1973 by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, which called for specific and sweeping improvements in fire safety. Among these were increased fire protection features in buildings, including automatic fire sprinklers.

In 2000, a federal commission was appointed to review the panel's recommendations. The Commission's report said, "Sprinklers are acknowledged as the most effective tool in immediately suppressing fires, minimizing damage and saving lives."

More recently, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation convened a national Life Safety Summit to reduce firefighter deaths, vowing to reduce the firefighter fatality rate by 25% within five years and by 50% within 10 years. The group's 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives include one focused on fire sprinklers: "Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers."

No one -- resident or firefighter -- is "expendable." Fire sprinkler systems save lives, but only when they are installed. The Fire Sprinkler Fitters Union will demonstrate its support of the fire service by redoubling efforts to help educate and reach building department groups with the facts about the need for adequate fire protection of structures.

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