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Opening remarks - Jim Shannon


NFPA President Jim Shannon speaks at the Home Fire Sprinkler Summit in Chicago, April 2012
“We are in this for the long haul” – NFPA President Jim Shannon

Speaking before a crowd comprising fire service representatives and other safety advocates from nearly every state, President Jim Shannon promised that NFPA would continue to lead the fight to require the installation of fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes.

Mr. Shannon was the featured speaker at the kick-off dinner for a one-day Home Fire Sprinkler Summit in Chicago in April 2012. The event brought together sprinkler advocates for networking and the sharing of lessons learned and best practices. Attendees also went home equipped with the information and resources they need to help make the case for sprinkler requirements.

Currently, three states (California, Maryland, and South Carolina) and scores of communities across the United States have adopted requirements for automatic fire sprinkler systems in new one- and two- family dwellings. And Mr. Shannon admits the effort has been an uphill battle.

“We knew right from the start that we were going to run into opposition, especially from homebuilders, who have a great deal of influence and seasoned lobbyists working on their behalf,” he said. “And we knew that they would fiercely oppose our efforts to get states to require sprinklers. But we are not discouraged because the logic of our efforts will ultimately prevail.”

Mr. Shannon compared the fire sprinkler campaign to an initiative that NFPA launched several years ago to save lives and prevent injuries from cigarette-ignited fires.

The concept of fire-safe cigarettes (cigarettes that have a reduced propensity to burn when left unattended) had been floating around for decades, but it never went anywhere, namely because of the power of the tobacco lobby, said Mr. Shannon. “But finally, New York State decided to take a stand, and passed a law that allowed only the sale of fire-safe cigarettes."

The New York law went into effect on June 28, 2004 – the first time that cigarette manufacturing had been regulated in the history of the world. Canada became the first country to require fire-safe cigarettes when its law became effective on October 1, 2005.

After the New York experience, Mr. Shannon said that NFPA started thinking that a state-by-state effort to require fire-safe cigarettes might be a more workable strategy than a national campaign. “When we started, we figured it would take eight or nine years to accomplish our goal. But in just under four years, we had worked with the fire service and other advocates to pass fire-safe cigarette laws in all 50 states.”

And according to a new NFPA report, civilian deaths attributed to smoking material fires in the United States in 2010 were at or near an all-time-low. Several factors, including a decline in smoking, stricter fire resistant standards on mattresses and upholstered furniture, and the new fire-safe cigarette laws are being credited with the decrease in smoking material fire deaths.

“The point is that we didn’t settle and we didn’t give up,” said Mr. Shannon. “And by using our new strategies and working with the committed members of our nation’s fire service, we believe we can save even more lives with home fire sprinkler requirements.”

Mr. Shannon said the effort to require home fire sprinklers in every state might take 3 years, or 5 years, or 10 years, “but we are in this fight for the long haul because it’s the right fight,” he said. “We have to push for change like this, because it will ultimately protect us and our homes. And it will protect the lives of our future generations, whose safety depends on our success and our efforts today.”
Why are home fire sprinklers so crucial to saving lives?
"NFPA has launched a major advocacy campaign to require sprinklers in the construction of all new one- and two-family homes," said Mr. Shannon in this excerpt of his speech at the 2011 NFPA Conference & Expo in Boston. "Both the NFPA and ICC codes have this sprinkler requirement. This question was debated for years in both of our organizations but with the affordable sprinkler installation technologies now available, we finally reached consensus that residential sprinklers are the appropriate minimum safety standard for new construction."