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Dubuque Burns Rooms to Show Importance of Sprinklers

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DUBUQUE, Iowa - Sprinkler systems save lives. To prove that to the public, Dubuque firefighters invited parents, kids, even contractors to a sprinkler demonstration at the county's fire training center, Tuesday evening.

"Just to see the advantages of having a sprinkler system in their home," said Dubuque Building Inspector Jeff Zasada.

Fire crews filled two small rooms with furniture, curtains, toys and electronics to mimic common living rooms. One room was rigged with a sprinkler, the other wasn't. The fire department then lit both rooms on fire, expecting intense results.

"We'll see dramatic differences between how fast the fire grows, how big the fire will get," said Fire Chief Dan Brown.

Once the fires were lit, the room without a sprinkler was fully engulfed after about three minutes.

"First unit that did not have the sprinkler head in it, all of the furniture is ruined beyond repair or recovery," said Zasada.

The room with a sprinkler fared far better. Within seconds the sprinkler head was activated by the heat. It promptly knocked down flames before they could get out of control.

"I thought that was pretty cool. This one only got the curtain," said 11-year-old David Heinold of Dubuque.

Cool to see, sure, but fire officials hope people learned something. Chief Brown said public demonstrations like Tuesday's are more important these days than ever. He said fires are burning hotter.

"When I started, it was around 1,100 degrees in a one room residential fire. Today those temperatures are pushing 1,500 degrees," said Brown.

Brown said the heat bump can be attributed to more plastics in our homes. He said it's in the fabric on our furniture, children's toys, even clothes.

City officials said the average cost to install a sprinkler system in a new home is around a $1.60 per square foot. It can be a bit more expensive to install one in an existing home.

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