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Officials discuss dangers of row home fires

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A string of recent row home fires, including Friday morning's fire in Lebanon that caused over half a million dollars in damage, is sparking a resurgence in the conversation surrounding row home fire.

Although no one was hurt in the Lebanon fire , the Red Cross says most of their resources are spent on residential fires.

“More than any other disaster combined, we respond to home fires," says Kim Miaolo, the director of communications for central Pennsylvania Red Cross.

In 2016, Pennsylvania reported 125 residential fire deaths.

Now, some fire prevention professionals say the state's current uniform construction leaves an open door for devastating possibilities by excluding the requirement for automatic sprinkler systems in all family dwellings.

"It's a statewide code that two or more units, such a town homes, are required to be sprinkler-ed, with new builds," says John Fritz, the president of family-owned Fritz Fire Protection in Penbrook.

Key words: new builds.

Currently, old build residences face no requirements involving sprinkler systems unless they are renovated to current standards.

That exception is causing concern for both former and current fire officials who say sprinklers are not only life-saving but cost-efficient for fire departments and the municipalities they serve.

“The average fire, once it gets started, can go into open flame in three or four minutes before the fire company can even get the call and get there," says Ernest Rojahn, the former deputy chief of the Lancaster City Fire Department.

“What some people don’t realize is the attics to row homes, they’re connected in how they’re constructed," says Miaolo. "It runs through very quickly when a fire occurs in one unit.”

Prevention specialists say while smoke detectors plays a vital role in fire safety, people often sleep through them and that sprinkler activations are much more reliable when it comes to saving lives.

"When the temperature reaches 155 degrees around whichever particular sprinkler head, that’s the head it discharges and contains that fire," says Fritz.

“Eighty-five percent of the fires would be put out with one to two sprinklers at 13-18 gallons a minute," says Rojahn.

Miaolo says a person only has two minutes to get out of a burning building safely.

“Don’t worry about getting the family photos," says Miaolo. "Don’t worry about getting anything expect for your loved ones and get out."

Back in 2011, one of the first acts of Governor Tom Corbett's administrations was amending the uniform construction code.

That action repealed the automatic sprinkler requirement for one and two family dwellings, amid protests of installation costs by building coalitions.

According to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition, sprinklers can reduce the risk of fire deaths by more than 80 percent.

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