A 24-7 home firefighter

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There was no clearer example displaying the purpose of home fire sprinklers than the two mock household rooms set up in the parking lot of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on Tuesday morning.

On the left, charred and blackened walls surrounded destroyed furniture and ruined floorboards. On the right, water dripped from the roof onto nearly untouched furniture and merely soaked floorboards. According to Bob King, public information officer for Sparks Fire Department and the Northern Nevada Fire Protection Committee, the demonstration went off without a hitch.

"The demonstration actually happened like all the instructions and videos that I have seen," he said. "The only problem we had today was that we were outside so the wind was not allowing that fire to grow as it would inside an actual home. It would have really gotten going a lot quicker."

As a large digital clock ticked away the seconds until Reno Fire Department personnel stepped in to extinguish the flames, King said the clock was not precisely indicative of how quickly the fire would get out of hand inside a home. The clock was meant to call attention to the amount of time it takes to notify the fire department, and the amount of time it takes for them to arrive.

"You could see today that the room without the sprinkler head had deep, dark smoke that was lying very low in the room," King said. "As soon as the sprinkler head went off in the other room, you saw that smoke go white and begin rising."

The national standard response time for fire departments is six minutes. In those six minutes, according to King, residents run the risk of thousands of dollars in damage from the fire and the means needed to suppress it.

"You will have some water damage, but here is the big difference: that sprinkler head puts out 15 gallons per minute. Say it takes us 10 minutes to get there; there is 150 gallons of water in your room," he said. "If you didn't have the sprinkler head, it takes us 10 minutes to get there and you have that fire going, we come in there with 135 gallon hoses and we are literally putting 3,000 gallons of water into that house to get the fire out."

King and other fire experts stressed the amount of damage inflicted to a room or home without fire sprinklers is significantly higher than those with them. A study backed by the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition said the average loss per sprinklered fire incident was $2,166, compared to more than $45,000 for unsprinklered homes, in Scottsdale, Ariz. over a 15-year period.

In Sparks, King conducted a study of his own surveying the fires that occurred in the city of Sparks between 2005 and 2011. He said 85 percent of the fires that occurred were residential, which proves the emphasis of public education should be focused on homes in the city and not as much geared toward commercial businesses.

"A lot of (Sparks) homes that are sprinklered are on the east side of town, up in the hills like in the D'Andrea area, and all those areas where our response time is a lot longer," King said. "We have a current ordinance in the City of Sparks that says any house built outside of our six-minute response time, from the closest fire station, must have sprinklers."

State Farm Insurance is an advocate for the home sprinkler because of the ability to reduce the damage done not only to an entire home, but to a single room that catches fire. Robert Villegas, public information officer for State Farm, said though the insurance company does not mandate its clients to have home sprinklers it does encourage them, especially during the construction of a home.

Villegas said that Nevada residents who are insured with State Farm receive a 10 percent discount for having an automatic fire sprinkler in their home.

"It is pretty hard to mandate (sprinklers) when they are a retrofit to the home, but it makes sense for new construction being done on a home," Villegas said. "It is not just protecting the home, it decreases the chance for injury as well. It limits the damage to a single room and actually uses a lot less water than would be needed by a team of firemen."

Fire personnel at Tuesday's demonstration said, much to the surprise of the film industry, that home sprinklers do not activate simultaneously. The sprinklers are comprised of a glass bulb sensitive to a certain temperature which breaks to begin the flow of water, therefore a sprinkler across the hall would not be activated unless the fire were to spread.

Read more: Sparks Tribune - A 24 7 home firefighter