City of Cottage Grove (MN) Celebrates 4th of July with a Side-by-Side Demonstration

Hotdogs, cold drinks, a hot summer night, and fireworks were all part of a community celebration of our nation’s Independence Day in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. The community was itching for a public gathering after finally being released from COVID-19 lockdown for the past 15 months. And what a gathering! Invited by Cottage Grove Deputy Public Safety Director/Fire Chief Rick Redenius and Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard, the Minnesota-based staff of NFSA conducted a side-by-side demonstration to a crowd of about 250 people. The event was attended by many families, so it provided the perfect opportunity to highlight home fire safety and the life-saving advantages of residential fire sprinklers.

Chief Redenius was joined by members of the Cottage Grove Fire Department, Deputy Chief Jon Pritchard, and Fire Marshal/Inspector Steve Zaccard. Marshal Zaccard introduced the NFSA team and several important dignitaries that attended the evening’s events: State Senator Karla Bingham, Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey, and City Councilmembers Justin Olson and Dave Thiede. Marshal Zaccard – himself a powerful and long-standing advocate for fire sprinklers – touted Senator Bingham’s support of Minnesota’s recent successful high-rise retrofit legislation; support of fire sprinkler installation in “wedding barn” venues; and the Senator’s support of Firefighter cancer, heart disease, and mental health initiatives.

The NFSA staff set up the trailer in 96-degree heat about 90 minutes (about 1 and a half hours) before the demonstration started, giving the crowd plenty of time to ask questions about fire sprinklers, smoke alarms, the life-saving strategy of closing bedroom doors at night, and the need to create and practice family egress plans. The event was perhaps the best crowd-engagement demonstration ever held by the Minnesota Chapter. Many more questions were asked after the demonstration. Based on the number and quality of the questions asked the event clearly left an impact on the younger members of the crowd.

Two of the most charming members of the audience were two young girls who took particular notice of the teddy bears we use in the demonstration. As you no doubt know (spoiler alert here for the uninitiated), one bear gets burned up in the flashover portion of the demonstration, while another bear gets a shower via the sprinkler-protected side of the trailer. We warned the crowd beforehand of the likely outcomes for these bears. Elyssa, a four-and-a-half-year-old girl, was so concerned about the bear’s impending destruction on the flashover side of the trailer that NFSA State Coordinator Tom Brace pulled the bear out before the fire was started and gave the bear to Elyssa. That bear suffered extensive hugging over the course of the next several hours!

The “sprinklered side” bear fared as well. After the demonstration, that bear sat drying off after a successful sprinkler save. NFSA Coordinator Joel Hewitt noticed a young autistic girl sitting with the bear and consoling it. She told the bear she would like to dry him off and make him feel better. Joel asked the girl if she thought she could do that for the bear. When she replied, “Yes,” Joel gave her the bear as a keepsake as well!

The demonstration itself went flawlessly, with smoke alarm activation in 12 seconds, sprinkler activation in 22 seconds, and flashover taking place in 1 minute and 57 seconds. NFSA’s demonstration was such a hit with the crowd that we have been asked back to conduct demonstrations for “every Fourth of July celebration” in the future!
Events like this are critical to building the “widespread acceptance of the fire sprinkler concept” captured in the NFSA Mission Statement. These demonstrations give State and local elected officials the opportunity to see firsthand how their policy decisions impact home fire safety. Families have the chance to learn about how best to protect their homes from fire. Partnering with local AHJs and highlighting their work is critical to code, legislative, and public education efforts. Engagement with each of these stakeholder groups is vital to mission accomplishment, and NFSA eagerly seeks additional opportunities to conduct side by side demonstration.

The Cottage Grove Fourth of July celebration was a great educational opportunity for everyone and a terrific way to celebrate our nation’s independence! NFSA can proudly say that we were part of the action, and we were happy to report that two stuffed teddy bears are thoroughly enjoying their newfound freedom!