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Fire Survivor Speaks of Importance of Sprinklers

April 11, 2017 06:12 PM

The February 2003 fire at The Station Nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island, killed 100 people.

Rob Feeney's fiancée was among the victims. He survived the blaze.

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"We knew it wasn't part of the show but I assumed sprinklers would come on. Before we knew it, it was taking over the stage. After it rolled over and the flames hit, people who were right by the stage were immediately burning," he recalled.

"I think the most frightening part was, I told my fiance I was going to get her out, when I couldn't," he said. "It just, it went too fast." 

That tragedy caused Feeney to dedicate his life to traveling the country and speaking on the importance of fire sprinklers.

Which is what brought him to the Ramada Plaza Hotel in Minneapolis Tuesday, where he was the keynote speaker at the 2017 State Fire Marshal Conference.

"After my recovery, I was determined to figure why this happened and what we are doing to prevent it," Feeney said.

More than 240 firefighters from several agencies have registered for the two-day event, the focus of which is fire sprinkler safety. 

According to data from the state fire marshal office, there were 920 documented fire sprinkler saves between 2004 and 2016 -- which works out to about one every day. 

Feeney said that in new construction homes, you have less than three minutes to get out.

"If you can't, under good conditions, blindfold yourself and get out of your house at 2:30 in the morning, and get your family out in less than 3 minutes, you're never going to do it with smoke and fire," he said. 

Mona Dohman, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said fire deaths have decreased significantly in Minnesota, and that prevention education has been a driving force behind that. 

"We have seen a dramatic drop, and we are averaging about 47 fire deaths per year, which is still far too many," she said. 

As a demonstration, fire officials set side-by-side fires in a trailer with two portable rooms -- one of which is equipped with a sprinkler -- to illustrate how sprinklers can save lives and property. 

The National Fire Sprinkler Association donated the trailer as an educational-tool gift to the NFSA's Minnesota Chapter. 

Feeney believes every home should have fire sprinklers. Fire officials from around the state agree, although the Builders Association of the Twin Cities does not.

"No industry has invested more to make Minnesota homes safer," said David Siegel, BATC executive director. "There have been no residential or firefighter deaths in Minnesota in a newly built single-family home since interconnected smoke alarms were required. This safety feature, along with modern codes, keeps Minnesota families and firefighters safe, and is much more affordable than sprinklers, which the Minnesota Construction Codes Advisory Council, the Minnesota Legislature and the Minnesota courts have determined should not be mandated."

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry passed requirements for sprinklers in new homes larger than 4,500 square feet in 2015, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the requirement later that year.


Credits

Cleo Greene and Jessica Miles

Copyright 2017 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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