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Tom Lia


One city at a time

Tom Lia

Tom Lia has been Executive Director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board since 1999. He started in the fire service as a paid-on-call firefighter for the City of Oak Forest in 1977. His fire service career has been accentuated by strong fire sprinkler advocacy. He has assisted with the adoption of home fire sprinkler requirements in many communities and districts in Illinois and elsewhere.  

Recipient of the Fire Sprinkler Initiative’s first "Home Fire Sprinkler Champion Award", Mr. Lia was honored at the Chicago summit for his dedication to increasing the presence of sprinklers in residences. He has participated in more than 325 side-by-side fire sprinkler demonstrations. His model served as the basis for the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s Fire and Sprinkler Burn Demonstration kit. As a result of Lia’s commitment to the fire sprinkler cause, thousands of fire departments around the country have implemented this tool in their own communities. 

Download Mr. Lia's presentation (Part 1Part 2) from the summit, "One City at a Time". 

Presentation highlights:

Today, 90 local jurisdictions in Illinois have adopted one- and two-family home fire sprinkler requirements.

How was this accomplished?

  • Basic outreach and educational efforts throughout Illinois at the grass roots level. 
  • Dedicated individuals 
  • Fire departments and districts taking the lead
  • Intra association cooperation and coordination
  • Inter Association cooperation and coordination
  • The fire chief and building official working together
  • Using the educational materials from the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition
  • Relying on NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative tools, research and resources

Working with communities and making a major effort to determine if there was support for an ordinance; and then reinforcing and motivating the base. We made many assumptions about our base. While there has been leadership from the major associations, their membership may not have been as enlightened or supportive, so we had to get back to our roots and make sure the base is with us. For example, we made the fire service aware of the National Fallen Firefighter’s Initiative #15, which states; “advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers.”

Basic education consisted of props; sprinkler box, fire sprinkler water display. We took education to the fire service, implementing training during Firefighter II and II classes, shift training, etc. We implemented a yearly NFPA 13D summit with notable speakers and an expert panel that includes fire marshals, building inspectors, engineers and consultants, among others. All participants receive a free NFPA 13D standard book. 

We took our sprinkler burn demonstration trailer on the road and conducted demonstrations during fire service legislative days. Communities applied for and were awarded FEMA grants and were able to obtain their own trailers. We obtained the Home Fire Sprinkler side-by-side burn demonstration kit and started using those to conduct community awareness activities. We sent out press releases and got the media involved. We received extensive media coverage.

We implemented the Live-on- Line education concept in single-family fire sprinkler demonstration projects, where we let the public, elected officials and inspectors see the work going on and ask questions. After the work was completed we held an “open house’ event. We also conducted demo houses live burns.

We started recognizing fire departments in their own magazine and media venues. It is important to recognize the towns that pass progressive ordinances; come up with your own creative ideas.

Be ready to attend town meetings, workshops, board meetings to present your case. Make sure you have your facts and make use of available research and reports.

Use the press coverage during incidents to make your case. Fire chiefs are being nurtured on saying “ if only fire sprinklers and smoke detectors were present the lives would be saved….” Whenever fire sprinklers activate we notify the press. We participate in radio shows to raise awareness. We write letters to the editor in major newspapers. Develop close relationships with the media; this was one of the ways we stopped anti-fire sprinkler legislation this last year 

Use social media to communicate your message. Put some of that message on your own Facebook page. It can be done, it must be done!