Firefighters push for fire sprinkler systems in homes

The Fond du Lac Fire Department shows the difference between a home with a fire sprinkler system and one without.

FOND DU LAC - There's a push to protect your family and your home should there be a fire.

It's a system firefighters believe might have saved many of the 30 people killed by fire in Wisconsin so far this year.

Habitat for Humanity of Fond du Lac County is building a brand new home for a family four.

But the home is different than most in the state.

"The white round is a sprinkler head," said Troy Haase, Fond du Lac Fire and Rescue.

An automatic fire sprinkler system was installed. The sprinkler head closest to the flames will automatically turn on if there's a fire.

"It'll either put the fire in check or extinguish the fire before we even arrive on the scene," said Peter O'Leary, Fond du Lac fire chief.

This is now the third Habitat Home in Fond du Lac over the past three years to have a sprinkler system built in.

"New construction is the best time to do that. It's the most cost effective like we did here. We're able to plan the water supply coming into the building and run the pipes up while things are roughed in," said Van Fitch with J.F. Ahern Company.

Fitch says in a 1,200 square foot home like this one it would cost $3,500 or more to put in a sprinkler system.

Much more, he said, in an existing home.

Only three states - California, Maryland, and Minnesota - plus the District of Columbia require fire sprinkler systems in newly constructed homes.

Demonstrating the difference, Fond du Lac's fire chief says firefighters can notice the difference as soon as they arrive between a home with a sprinkler system and one without it.

"It provides this water curtain and knocks it down and the smoke turns to steam so there's a steam conversion so we'll see more of a steam effect than we do of actual smoke billowing out of a window," O'Leary said.

The Wisconsin manager for a Fire Sprinkler Association says this equipment works quickly and it can save lives.

"We lost about 60 people in my 26 years with the Milwaukee Fire Department and had fire sprinklers been in there with the exception of the one where they intended to take their own life, the other 59 would've survived," said Dan Gengler with the Fire Sprinkler Association.

The fact is, still less than 5 percent of homes around the country have a sprinkler system.

The National Fire Protection Agency shows that in homes with a sprinkler system, the death rate if there's a fire, is lowered by 82 percent.