Dramatic fire demo outside Philly City Hall promotes stronger sprinkler requirements

A Philadelphia City Council member and others got a first-hand look at the importance of sprinklers in stopping the threat of a fire.

Two identical rooms were set ablaze on the apron of the municipal services building Thursday afternoon. One room, equipped with a sprinkler, was out in seconds. The other belched thick black smoke seconds after being lit on fire. The heat forced some of those watching the demonstration to back up as the flames grew in intensity. Firefighters extinguished the blaze after about 2 minutes as it was preparing to take down the temporary structure.

As the fire burned, it was easy to imagine how dangerous the flames would be inside a home. It also proved the importance of keeping bedroom doors closed to stop the smoke and other dangerous gasses from entering your room while you are sleeping.

Councilmember Mark Squilla called the demo another good reason to approve his bill that would require sprinklers in all buildings over 75 feet tall. He says that’s just the start. “We have a lot of old stock in the city of Philadelphia, and we’re still not at a point where we could do that with a single-family home.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

In many cases, Squilla said the buildings without sprinklers already have the standpipe necessary to hook up a sprinkler system, making it easier for businesses to add the next step in fire protection.

Rob Feeney understands the importance of sprinklers. He survived the 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island that killed 100 people.  He saw firsthand how fire moves when there is no sprinkler system available. He got out, but three of his friends, including his future wife, didn’t make it out alive.

“Fire doesn’t care what color you are. It doesn’t care what political party you fall on. It doesn’t care about anything but destroying what’s in its path,” Feeney said. “The only thing that will prevent a fire from destroying its path is water. The quickest water is through a fire sprinkler system.”

The demonstration was put on by the sprinkler fitters union, which installs the systems in buildings.

The bill to mandate sprinklers is being scheduled for a council hearing. A date for that hearing is not available yet.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal