By Martin M. King, State Coordinator, National Fire Sprinkler Association – Wisconsin Chapter
(Appeared in the August 2018 issue of The Dispatcher)

We all wish we had more time. Time to fit all things into our busy schedules. Work, family, religion, leisure and hobbies are examples of all the things we must budget our time for, and we hope that something does not arise to affect our plans. Of course, almost always, something seems to come up. To quote businessman Jim Rohn, “Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”

Fire service values time because they never know when an emergency will change the schedule. The fire department also has seen the effect that time can have on the outcome.

We have often heard the phrase, ‘time is muscle,’ when dealing with a patient having a heart attack. The longer treatment is delayed, the more damage is done to the heart muscle. The same applies to strokes; time affects the damage to the brain.

The American Heart Association has the chain of survival timeline, which stresses the importance of citizens performing CPR and rapid defibrillation before first responders arrive. National response standards call for first responders to initiate CPR within four minutes and advanced life support within eight minutes. Prevention efforts include training citizens in the areas of heart attack/stroke recognition, CPR and defibrillation.

With all trauma calls, there is the golden hour to get the patient to the appropriate hospital for stabilization and further treatment. It also is key to include prevention methods that identify a trend in trauma causes, as well as, once again, training citizens in basic first aid.

The home fire timeline shows the growth of fire to flashover, and the time for occupants to safely evacuate. Generally, after flashover, the room or structure is no longer survivable for the occupants due to heat (800 to 1,200 degrees) and smoke.

When I started in the volunteer fire department in the 1980s, we worried about flashover about 20 minutes after the fire started. This was generally the time firefighters arrived on scene to start fire operations. Although people still perished in fires, the advent of smoke alarms in the late 1970s cut the national fire death rate in half. The concern moved from rescue to fire suppression. This timeline has changed over the past decades primarily due to the contents in our homes. Most products are made of polyurethanes and plastics that burn at a higher rate than legacy furniture. This has increased the flashover timeline from 20 minutes to three minutes.

This shift has affected the needed evacuation time, which used to be around three minutes, to less than 90 seconds. That is assuming that the home has working smoke alarms, and the occupant is not impaired (alcohol, drugs  or illness, age or disability). The occupant response is greatly affected by time of day and activity. Even with working smoke alarms, occupants are in danger because of the power of fire and how quick fire develops. Due to the change in flashover times, fire departments are unable to respond quickly enough to rescue occupants. Your response time from the time the fire is detected until fire department arrival is critical for occupant arrival.

While EMS has employed training and equipment for civilians to assist with life-saving intervention, this position has not been taken for fire. Fire sprinklers have been around for more than 100 years saving lives and protecting property, yet there are still many myths about sprinklers. The most common, that all the sprinklers will go off at once. If every building in a community is protected, there will still be structure fires, but without life loss or major property damage. Damage after a sprinkler activates is typically from the water and is less than the smoke, heat and flame damage without a sprinkler system. Cost is often a major concern, yet installing sprinklers in a new construction home is often similar to flooring, kitchen and bath upgrades. That being said, I have to ask the following. Have you experienced a fire in your house and lost property that had sentimental value or just the inconvenience of the fire and associated relocation?

Fire sprinklers provide the #fastestwater for life safety (for both occupants and responding firefighters) and property protection. They are the cheapest business continuation insurance one can buy. Are you promoting fire prevention through fire sprinkler system advocacy or have you bought into the myths? The Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association, Wisconsin Professional Firefighters and Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition are part of the advocacy group in support of fire sprinklers and smoke alarms to prevent property loss and promote life safety.

For copies of the fire timeline, contact Marty King. For more information on how fire sprinklers save lives and property, please contact Marty King at [email protected] or visit and