Winning Scholarship Essay

Following is Harasyn Sandell’s winning entry from the AFSA/PacNW Scholarship Contest for the 2004/2005 school year. Harasyn is graduating from high school in Sequim this term and she will be attending the Dominican University of California in San Rafael, California. Harasyn has won a $1500.00 prize to use for her education. Harasyn will be going off to school with a new awareness of how fire sprinklers can save lives and property. Your dues to AFSA made this scholarship award possible. Please take the time to click the link below to read Harasyn’s essay.

**Winning Scholarship Essay**

Three hours west of Seattle, nestled between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan De Fuca, lies the sleepy town of Sequim, Washington. It is an area of the Northwest known for clean air and water, unspoiled natural beauty, and a famous elk herd that wanders the city limits. My parents moved here when I was one year old, knowing my dad was dying of lung cancer and wanting a safe place for our family.

Because Sequim is so small, there is little industry and few large buildings. The tallest edifice is an historic silo, built as part of an agricultural coop in times past. However, the rest of the town’s architecture includes commercial and residential structures that are relatively small, and only two stories high at the most. Because of this, and the temperate climate, Sequim has not had a significant history of major fires. Since my family has lived here, not one large fire has been witnessed in town.

This lack of fire history has had both positive and negative impact. Positively, it gave Sequim a safe environment. Regrettably, it was not until the early eighties that our city fathers deemed it necessary to seriously address modern fire prevention, containment, and documentation. Previously, fires were fought by volunteers and a fledgling department on an individual basis. In 1981, Sequim expanded the department and adopted the Uniform Fire Code. [9] These construction fire codes defined types of buildings and addressed standard safety issues such as door placement, windows, ventilation, and sprinkler systems. Size, use, and occupancy limits were outlined with older construction being exempt. Schools, nursing homes and churches fall into these categories. However, since that time, no fires have been reported in these buildings.

Neither the Sequim Fire Department, nor the City Offices were able to document problems directly relating to fires. Over the years, regulations and programs have changed, yet older structures have still not been updated due to budget constraints. However, within fifteen miles of Sequim in the city of Port Angeles, Washington, the fire department addressed the monetary problems in 1998 by offering a credit on building permits when a residential sprinkler system was voluntarily installed. Originally in 1996, the city realized that built in sprinkler protection could help slow the financial impact of having to build and staff fire stations while offering life saving protection to homeowners. [1] $500 credits were offered to builders that had homes four minutes away from fire stations. This foresight helped defray the costs incurred when installing fire protection systems in residences that were not required by the Uniform Fire Codes. It also helped the city save the money that would have been spent on expanding firehouses.

Despite the fact that Sequim has reported few fires and none of those around structures with sprinklers, the financial and life saving benefits of having a system installed were demonstrated in Port Angeles in 1997. On December 18 a fire broke out in a Port Angeles apartment in the afternoon. The occupants were in a different room, but had left a candle burning on the back of the toilet tank. Its flame ignited a cupholder, which dripped melted plastic over the edge of a counter and onto a package of toilet paper. The toilet paper then caught fire, charring the side of a wooden cabinet. [2] The temperature in the bathroom exceeded 150 degrees, activating the room’s sprinkler, which also sounded an alarm.

Unaware of the fire, the occupants could hear water dripping and the alarm. They called 911 and evacuated. The Port Angeles Fire Department responded and found a wet smoky mess, but no fire. [2] As reported by the local paper, the damage was limited to a small area and prevented a huge loss to the building. Because this apartment complex was less than four years old, it had been required by codes to have sprinklers. Afterward, Fire Chief Bruce Becker commented that if these guys would have been sleeping and they didn’t have a sprinkler, they would have been dead. [2]

A similar fire in Port Angeles the same year was documented with a significantly different outcome. Combustibles in a bathroom caught fire and, fortunately, an adult heard a smoke detector and saw smoke. The woman and her child left the residence and called 911. Despite the fact that the Fire Department arrived within five minutes, the structure sustained significant damage with the contents of the home being completely destroyed by smoke and fire. [6]

Of course the monetary burden of building damages and property losses is great, but the preservation of lives is more important. The mess caused by sprinklers in the December 18th fire was negligible, and when referring to the positive effects of the sprinklers in the fire, Chief Becker mentioned a fatal blaze in the city of Bremerton, Washington, where four lives were lost. That fire in Bremerton says so much about sprinklers. That building housed many elderly people who could not get out, he said. Sprinklers would have stopped the fire before it got very far. [2]

Sleepy Sequim is expanding and the Fire Department is growing with it. In September new levies passed and within the last few months the city adopted the new International Fire Code. Amongst other things, this code defines requirements for new construction. Size, occupancy, and storage, in addition to special circumstances like repair shops, garages, basements, garbage chutes, buildings over 55 feet tall, flammable, and cooking operations determine the need for sprinkler installation. Grants for up to $2,000 are offered for voluntary installations, offsetting the costs of the systems, and insurance companies have added discounts for premiums on structures with sprinklers.

With the minimized financial outlay surrounding installation of sprinkler systems, the demonstrated overwhelming benefits to both life and property, and the addition of new regulations, sprinkler system installation will see expanded popularity. Although our town has fortunately seen few big structural fires, this sensible safety provision is a benchmark for fire protection and containment.