"Provide Fire Protection for Farmed Animals":
Opinion by Karen Davis Published in DelmarvaNow, Sept. 4, 2015
Re: Deborah Gates, "19,000 chickens die in Willards fire," DelmarvaNow, Sept. 3, 2015
The fire in Willards that killed 19,000 chickens on Tuesday is part of an ongoing tragedy for farmed animals. In 2012, my organization, United Poultry Concerns, launched a campaign to persuade the National Fire Protection Association -- "the authority on fire, electrical, and building safety" based in Quincy, Massachusetts -- to develop standards to protect farmed animals from preventable fires after learning that the NFPA had proposed that sprinklers and smoke control systems be installed in all newly-constructed farmed animal housing facilities.
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Agribusiness groups protested the proposal, arguing that installation and maintenance of sprinkler systems in farmed animal housing complexes would be too expensive. Sprinklers, they said, would mean having to add water storage tanks and fire pumps, digging and maintaining wells and other inconveniences. Veterinarian Rebecca Gimenez, a member of an NFPA committee that is working on the issue, also wondered whether chickens sprinklered to stop a fire would become hypothermic and die even more slowly and painfully.
In response to agribusiness lobbying and the questions being asked, the NFPA voted down proposals in 2012 and 2014 that would have set standards for fire protection for farmed animals. However, the issue is not dead but under review.
As with the two-week-old chickens who died in the Willards facility fire, most agribusiness buildings are part of complexes comprising several buildings with thousands of animals in each one. The conditions in which chickens are kept -- 20,000 or more birds in a single shed, 125 thousand egg-laying hens in a single cage unit -- make their evacuation when a fire breaks out virtually impossible. Moreover, if even pet horses and backyard hens with names are overlooked in fire safety standards, what chance is there for animals who are viewed by the companies that own them as nothing more than production units?
Some people have criticized the effort to require fire protection for farmed animals, saying that the animals are so miserable already, they might as well die in a fire that ends their existence -- the sooner the better. This dilemma is real, but I will never concede that we have the right to turn our backs on animals whose plight we've created and do nothing to help them. We as a society and the companies that own them have a moral obligation. No animal should ever be forced to die helplessly in a preventable fire.
Karen Davis, President
United Poultry Concerns
To learn more about UPC's campaign targeting the National Fire Protection Association to mandate fire protection for farmed animals, visit National Fire Protection Association.