The Story Not Told
We have known for years that news events must contain key elements to allow them to be considered newsworthy. Stories that are considered significant and prominent take headlines, while others are postponed or even lost on the cutting room floor. What is often missed from the headlines are the significant stories that fail to meet editors’ earmarks. Automatic fire sprinkler success stories often fall in this category and go widely unrecognized. Sometimes the important story is that non-event which failed to meet significant criteria and simply goes unnoticed or unreported.
Some of us on the East Coast are currently in the height of the periodical 17-year Brood X Cicada explosion. This fascinating emergence of billions of harmless insects with large, bulging, red eyes and transparent wings has been dominating our local evening news. They have been all the buzz for weeks, with news stories covering what they are, where they come from, why only every 17 years, their ability to exceed 85-90 decibels, and yes, even recipes for eating them. This story has dominated local news, consistently meeting those elements of a newsworthy event.
While we take time to learn more about these amazing creatures’ emergence once every 17-years, and celebrate the miracle of nature, we should not miss those significant news stories that are left on the edit room floor. These are the significant stories that fail to meet key elements prompting an editor to approve its coverage.
This past week, on May 25, a family suffered a kitchen fire, the leading cause of fires in the United States, in a three-story wood-framed apartment complex in Salisbury, Maryland. The fact that a fire occurred in a kitchen, at 10pm in the evening, in a multi-family, wood-constructed apartment building unit, should have been enough to trigger some coverage on the local news. In fact, the fire went virtually unnoticed.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Home Cooking Fires Report, issued in 2020 by Marty Ahrens, reported kitchen fires as the leading cause of fires in the United States. On average, the US Fire Service responds to an estimated 172,900 home structure fires started by cooking fires, resulting in 550 deaths, 4820 injuries and more than $1 billion in property damage loss.
The reality is this fire did not achieve the elements required to be consider newsworthy. The fact is a residential fire sprinkler system controlled this fire until the arrival of the fire service. The smoke detectors activated, the fire alarm panel notified the fire department of a fire and allowed the tenants the time needed to safely evacuate the building. All the life-safety systems operated as designed and prevented a significant fire. The outcome was positive, with no loss of life and only $1,500 in damage. We could drive by this building the next day and not even know a fire occurred.
We should pause and reflect on this fire and its potential for catastrophic loss of life and property damage. This potential risk is even greater in multi-family housing and makes this success story more important. The lack of news it produced and the sharp contrast to other significant fires in apartment buildings without fire sprinkler systems is drastic. The potential of what could have been, and the success of residential fire sprinkler systems is the story that needs to be told.