Making Veterans’ Homes Fire Safe
According to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are currently 49,933 homeless veterans on the streets each night. That is 49,933 people who risked their lives for this country, who may have lost friends and been injured in the process, and who are now without security or a safe place to sleep. But there are organizations that are working to change that. Homes for Our Troops (HFOT) is one such organization, a charity whose mission is to build homes for severely injured veterans post-9/11. Since its inception in 2004, HFOT has built over 190 homes for injured veterans, and currently has 52 projects underway.
“Our mortgage-free, specially adapted homes restore some of the freedom and independence our veterans sacrificed while defending our country,” says Teresa Franco Verity, marketing coordinator for Homes for Our Troops, “and enable them to focus on their family, recovery, and rebuilding their lives.”
When Dave Kokosenski of BlazeMaster found out about the work that HFOT was doing, he knew he wanted to get involved. “I come from a strong military family,” Kokosenski says. “Two of my uncles were wounded in Vietnam. My oldest uncle on my dad’s side fought in WWII. I don’t know how to say how grateful I am that just by being myself I can help the troops. I worked behind the scenes, getting our company involved, making sure the material flowed to the job, soliciting our vendors to participate. It was about getting people excited about it, and wanting to become involved. Once you get involved you want to stay involved.”
Kokosenski connected his company with the charity, and then reached out to Paulene Norwood, the executive director of the American Fire Sprinkler Association’s (AFSA) Sacramento Valley Chapter. Norwood was eager to get AFSA involved in helping build homes with HFOT: “Even though the homes don’t require fire sprinklers,” Norwood states, “we consider safety first and we want to save lives.”
Corporal Joshua Hotaling, a Marine who lost both his legs and part of one hand in an IED blast in Afghanistan, became the much-deserving recipient of the first HFOT house equipped with fire sprinklers. In December of 2014, construction began on his home in Loomis, California. With coordination help from the Sacramento Valley Chapter, AFSA members BlazeMaster; Alwest Fire Protection, Roseville, California; Elite Automatic Fire Protection Systems, Loomis, California; and HD Supply donated their time and materials to making sure that Cpl. Hotaling’s new home would be protected by fire sprinklers.
Jacob Engelbrecht, co-founder and operations manager at Elite Automatic, was excited to be a part of the process. “It was a good opportunity to help someone who has had their life completely changed helping us,” Engelbrecht says. “We provided all the labor and supervision and design for the fire sprinkler system, while Alwest Fire Protection provided the materials.”
According to Engelbrecht, the design of the CPVC residential fire protection system that was installed in the home happened a month before the installation. After the design was submitted and approved, the installation took just one week.
HFOT builds homes that are specific to the veteran who will be living there, so Cpl. Hotaling’s home was built with low countertops, wide hallways and entryways, and ramps. However, each house is based on one basic floor plan, which is 3,400 ft2 including the garage. This makes the fire sprinkler design for these homes fairly simple, which was just one more great incentive for AFSA members to get involved.
The HFOT process works like this: veterans in need tell the organization where they want to live, and HFOT sends a survey team to find a good location for the home within that city or town. Local contractors are then identified and asked to donate their labor and materials toward building the home. Many U.S. contractors understand the sacrifice that these veterans have made, and they are eager to donate their valuable resources to the cause.
On March 7, 2015, Cpl. Hotaling received the keys to his brand new home, fully equipped for his needs and for his safety. But, there are many more veterans just like him that still need homes. HFOT has numerous projects on the horizon, and without the help and generosity of AFSA members, those homes will not come equipped with fire sprinklers. After the success of this initial project, there is nothing stopping AFSA members who want to get involved with the charity to do so right now. In fact, Norwood and the AFSA staff heartily encourage anyone interested in reaching out to HFOT to do so. It is a worthy cause and a great way to support veterans and to get involved in your local community. Visit hfotusa.org.