RENO, NV - Smoke alarms can get you and your family out of a burning building in time, but a sprinkler system can stop the fire at its origin.
That's why fire officials and members of the media gathered on a parking lot near the convention center this morning.
To demonstrate the difference a sprinkler system can make they constructed two identical rooms. That one has no sprinkler system. The other does.
First, a fire is started in a trash can in the non-sprinklered room.
The fire builds quickly. In less than two minutes the smoke alarm has been triggered.
If this were your home, you'd be scrambling to get everyone out safely, then calling the fire department.
But a couple of minutes later, very likely before they could arrive things can get much more serious.
"It can get to flash over phase, which means everything in that room ignites, in 4 to 5 minutes," says Sparks Fire Marshal Bob King.
And in the demonstration that's exactly what happens. The room literally explodes in flame and black smoke.
Firemen put out the blaze, but the destruction is complete. Anything or anyone would have been lost in the 1000 degree heat.
Then the contrast. Identical room, same scenario, but this room has been equipped with a sprinkler.
Again a small fire starts and builds in a trash can. The smoke alarm sounds well within two minutes and a short time later, the sprinklers come on.
Damage is limited. The side of a couch is burned. There's water and smoke damage elsewhere, but little else. Even a house plant on an end table survives.
A comparison of the two rooms makes the point. King says smoke alarms have saved lives, but residential sprinkler systems would save more.
"The sprinkler system will give us that extra time to get out because as we saw today you have two to three minutes at the most to get your entire family out of the house before it's too late."
King says there are two misconceptions about residential sprinkler systems. One is that they are very expensive. "They cost an average of $1.50 per square foot," he says. "A little more in a retrofit."
The second is that when one sprinkler is triggered, all are, wetting down the whole home.
Not true, he says. Each sprinkler fixture is triggered independently.
The systems have already shown up in some new housing developments. The day is coming, he says, when they will be part of the building code and required.