Twenty years ago, there were just a few U.S. and Canadian fire departments that promoted the life-saving benefits of fire sprinklers in new homes. While many members of the fire service were aware of home fire sprinklers, sprinkler education materials were limited and most fire safety education programs focused on smoke alarms and escape plans. Thanks to movies and television shows featuring fire sprinklers all activating at once, the thought of installing sprinklers in homes did not appeal to homebuyers.
But for decades, fire data had proved that people were dying at the highest rates where they felt safest, in their own homes. The challenge of educating consumers about the life-saving benefits of home fire sprinklers needed a strong and unified voice.
It took the vision, commitment and willingness of three organizations to come together, forget their differences and work collaboratively.
HFSC’s Early Days
In the spring of 1996, after other efforts to create a collective home fire sprinkler focus faded, leaders of the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) and the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) approached the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to discuss how this could finally be achieved.
While all three organizations embraced home fire sprinkler awareness within their outreach endeavors, each had its own niche and perspective and none was able to focus solely on this essential public safety topic. AFSA and NFSA saw the need and the opportunity, and both recognized it would be a stronger effort if it were carried out collaboratively.
NFPA welcomed their ideas and the prospect of joining forces to give home fire sprinklers the attention they deserved. “From day one, all of the founding members put aside any political and philosophical differences to focus on the task of developing the best home fire sprinkler educational material we could,” says Gary Keith, who during his tenure at NFPA was HFSC’s President. “We knew we were ahead of where the model codes were on home fire sprinklers at that point in time, but that only made us more determined to sharpen our educational message and build support across all interest groups.” Keith now serves on HFSC’s Board as FM Global’s Vice President-Engineering Standards.
In very short order, the three founders unified to create a coalition that would focus exclusively on increasing and improving public education about this life-saving technology. The reaction was positive and the fledgling HFSC planted the flag as a nonprofit and noncommercial home fire sprinkler education group.
In its early years, the Coalition carried out pilot programs in Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, Arizona and Canada, working with fire service organizations on consumer sprinkler education. That initial alliance was successful and turned out to be prophetic. Today, the fire service is HFSC’s most important partner in delivering quality grassroots awareness and education programs in every state and in Canada. “While HFSC successfully developed targeted materials for many audiences, we realized that the fire service needed to be our primary partner,” Keith recalls. “When consumers want information about home fire sprinklers, the local fire department is their most trusted source – HFSC has made sure that fire departments have what they need to accurately address any questions they receive.”
HFSC has evolved from its founders’ modest launch. Today it is guided by an active, dedicated all-volunteer Board of Directors that represents broad public safety concerns. “The formation of HFSC proved that organizations that sometimes have competing interests can come together to promote common goals,” says AFSA President Steve Muncy. This desire and ability to put mission ahead of individual issues remains one of HFSC’s enduring strengths.
“At the first meeting I attended ten years ago, I was so impressed with the commitment and depth of the Board,” says Lorraine Carli, HFSC’s President and NFPA Vice President of Outreach and Advocacy. “Everyone around the table understands the challenges, the objectives and the strategies. Most importantly, each Board member understands and respects the power of collaboration.”
Another asset is HFSC’s independence. The founders determined early on that the Coalition would leave product promotion to the industry and focus instead on communicating about the value of sprinkler technology and the need for more home installations as a life-safety strategy. Being neutral has kept HFSC in good stead, contributing to the Coalition’s credibility with wide audiences and helping it to become a powerful and effective national media source.
“The birth of HFSC in 1996 signaled the beginning of the first residential fire sprinkler educational effort targeted specifically at the general public,” says Jim Dalton, NFSA’s Washington/Congressional Liaison and its representative on the HFSC Board until 2009. He remains proud of the Coalition’s track record. “HFSC has steadfastly stuck to it’s original objective of ensuring that families are aware of and knowledgeable about the life-saving and property-preservation advantages of fire sprinkler-protected homes. Eventual success will depend on the ability to continue this most important effort long range.”
Muncy, who will retire from AFSA in December 2016 agrees. “Focusing on those goals, HFSC has accomplished so much more than we originally thought 20 years ago. As I near retirement, I must say that my involvement on the HFSC Board for 20 years has been one of the most satisfying efforts of my career—something I will look back on with satisfaction and fond memories. I’m sure HFSC will continue to spread the message about home fire sprinklers for decades in the future.”
“HFSC has the utmost gratitude for the founding members. Their foresight we know has saved lives and will continue to do so for many decades to come. It has proved to be a very successful model aimed at the most pressing fire issue of our time – home fires,” Carli says.
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