BALTIMORE, Maryland — In the early hours of Jan. 19, 2015, the 15-foot Christmas tree proudly displayed in the Great Room of a large Annapolis, Maryland mansion caught fire.
It spread through the home killing Sher Grogg's brother, sister-in-law, and their four young grandchildren.
“They just didn’t have enough time to do anything, and it was under three minutes and everything was gone,” Grogg said.
It's painful for her to talk about, even more distressing to see rooms engulfed in flames, but as an advocate for Common Voices, a coalition whose mission is a fire safe America, she witnesses fire demonstrations.
“Oh, it’s horrible. And actually, really horrifying for me to see because I know my brother was right in the middle of a room that had flashover and that was his last experience,” said Grogg.
This is her outlet to grieve. She's found purpose in educating and warning others. Had her brother’s home had fire sprinklers, she thinks her family would still be here today.
“You can replace material things, but you can't replace a life and that's the difference. You really need to consider fire sprinklers to save the lives of your family,” said Grogg.
Shane Ray is the president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association. He’s been in the fire service since 1984 and has seen how smoke detectors alone are not enough to prevent deaths.
“We have more contents in our home than we've ever had before and most of those contents are made out of synthetic materials, so it produces a much more toxic smoke, much faster and much more deadly,” Ray said.
On Thursday, he demonstrated how quickly a fire spreads. Within a minute, flames and smoke engulfed a tiny room. The smoke alarm sounded then the sprinklers went off. In a side-by-side comparison, the same room, without sprinklers, is completely destroyed by the fire.
Ray said the sprinklers give families time to evacuate, buy firefighters time to get to the incident, and can save the lives of our pets.
“Ninety-six percent of fires are contained with just one sprinkler. This is the sprinkler that came out of that fire. So, if we had another 10 rooms in the house, this is the only sprinkler that would activate. It's not tied to the smoke alarm, it's not tied to anything else, it's individually heat-activated,” said Ray, attempting to dispel some myths surrounding sprinklers.
The heat in a room must reach 155 degrees before the bulb in the sprinkler shatters, releasing water. Burnt toast or cigar smoke will not set off fire sprinklers.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than 2,500 people die in home fires each year. Sprinklers decrease the risk of dying in a house fire by 80 percent.
Grogg also wants to remind people with this upcoming holiday season to water your tree every day, get rid of it right after the holiday, and unplug your tree every night.
National Fire Prevention Week runs through Oct. 13. For more information on fire safety, click here.