As a member of the business development team at the fire-protection contractor United States Alliance Fire Protection, Jenna Jordan is the first to acknowledge that it’s impossible to put a price on the benefits of fire safety.
But she would like you to consider this set of facts: Her younger brother, Jeff, has had to undergo innumerable medical treatments and nearly 90 reconstructive surgeries since being burnt over 30 percent of his body when he was only six-weeks old. The total cost of all that by the time he was 22 years old? Roughly $10 million.
“If you think of the cost associated with Jeff’s injury, that’s just one young boy with a $10 million medical bill so for someone to say it is too expensive to install-fire safety equipment is hard for me to stomach,” said Jordan, who mainly works out of the Lake Forest, Illinois-based company’s Appleton office.
Jordan’s intimate knowledge of just how dangerous fires can be began when her parents adopted her brother Jeff not long after he was sent to the hospital to be treated for his wounds. At the time of the accident, Jeff had been living in a mobile home with his biological parents and siblings.
Some of the details of what happened are up for debate but what the family does know is that one of his siblings set a window curtain on fire with a lighter. Those who could flee did. Jeff, though, was helplessly trapped as the burning curtain fell on his face, hands, and chest.
At first, the doctors attending to Jeff thought he wouldn’t survive. When it became apparent he would, Jordan’s parents – one of whom was a nurse and the other a respiratory therapist working at the same hospital – decided to adopt him after his biological parents surrendered his care to the hospital.
That was only the beginning of Jordan’s long familiarity with the trials and travails of burn victims. Growing up, she’d watch as Jeff would go every summer – starting when he was 6 years old – to Wisconsin’s burn camp.
Eventually, both she and Jeff, who recently turned 26, became volunteers at the camp. That eventually led their work in fire protection and advocacy.
Just before joining USA Fire Protection, Jordan had worked for the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation. Her current job allows her to not only continue pursuing many of the same causes but also advocate explicitly for steps that developers and property owners can take to make buildings safer.
USA Fire Protection is a contracting company primarily specializing in the installation, maintenance and inspection of fire-protection systems. It has roughly 400 employees and does most of its work in Wisconsin and northern Illinois. It has offices not only in Lake Forest and Appleton but also Plainfield, lllinois, and New Berlin.
For Jordan, the most important step a property owner can take to reduce the risk of fires is to install sprinklers. As essential as good alarms and hand-held extinguishers are, Jordan said, nothing can stop the spread of a fire faster than sprinklers.
“And I’ve talked to people in the restoration business, and they tell me water damage is much easier to repair than fire damage,” she said.
Unfortunately, Jordan said, the state of Wisconsin took a step backward last year when the Department of Justice issued an opinion finding that sprinklers no longer had to be installed in multi-family dwellings with fewer than 20 units.
“Other states are tightening up regulations a bit,” she said. “And we are getting more lax.”
The situation is far better at the federal level, Jordan said.
Jordan noted that her brother – who, despite being legally blind, does clerical work and outreach for USA Fire Protection – has helped a group called Common Voices lobby government officials at the local, state and national levels for fire-safety legislation. One of their recent triumphs came in the form of federal legislation allowing small businesses to write off from their income taxes up to $1 million of their expenditures on the retrofitting of fire sprinklers.
Jordan said USA Fire Protection’s involvement with Common Voices and similar groups runs deep. Even before she and Jeff joined, the former company president, Gregg Huennekens, was working with the same organizations and promoting the same causes. With his recent retirement and his son, Chad, taking over the reins, the volunteer and philanthropic commitments continue.
“With these causes, we try to get ahead of the issue by installing, inspecting and maintaining life –safety-equipment,” Jordan said. “We follow through even further if you’ve been affected personally by fire, if you’ve had an injury or loss. We work through these organizations to also provide support for that.”Follow @TDR_WLJDan