Little Rock, AR -- Modern homes are built to withstand storms and earthquakes better than older homes; however, the construction materials used and cost-efficient furnishings allow these homes to burn 8 times faster than they used to burn.
When fires spark, they move quickly in homes, not always giving time for everyone to escape.
"I asked her where her husband was, and she said in the hallway," said a Good Samaritan, following a Little Rock fire. The woman was able to escape, assisted, but her husband wasn't as lucky.
Firefighters arrive at fires between 5 and 8 minutes after it is reported; however, that is not enough time to keep the fire contained. "Even in between the five to eight minutes we might respond in, a fire has a lot of times extended to two or three rooms in the home," said Captain Randy Hickmon, Little Rock Fire Department.
Recent research has shown that seconds count all the more during a house fire. "We're talking about two minutes, probably at the most, to escape. Whereas, before synthetic furnishings and lightweight construction, you typically had around 15 to 18 minutes [to escape]," said Hickmon.
The newer materials are more cost-efficient and, sometimes, stronger than older construction materials. However, researchers at Underwriter Laboratories found homes that have synthetic materials and lightweight construction materials reach flashover eight times faster.
"[Synthetic materials] are burning a lot faster and giving off a lot more toxic gases. When those materials reach a certain temperature they are off-gassing chemicals that were never intended to come from that item because it was never put to that extensive heat," said North Little Rock Fire Marshal John Pflasterer.
Hickmon added, "Smoke inhalation is the biggest killer in the fire. That gets most people before the fire. A house will fill up with smoke very quickly."
Those issues have fire safety organizations recommending new fire protection strategies. Sprinkler systems have been effective in multi-unit residences like apartments and businesses. There's some reluctance for residential because they don't understand the costs.
"The system is maintained, they're going to work 100% of the time," said Pflasterer. "But, the issue comes back to the dollar. Contractors and construction companies are afraid it will drive prices up. But, what we're seeing is a sprinkler system run about $1.50 a square foot, which is a nominal cost when you think about how many lives and how much property it might save."
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