Bi-monthly newsletter from the MJ Insurance | Sorority Division.
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Increase in Attic Fires: The Need for Heat Sensors

Year end 2016, the MJ Sorority Department was very pleased to see that we now have seventy-three percent (73%) of our chapter houses under the additional protection of a fire suppression system. The leadership of the women’s fraternities and sororities are to be complemented on addressing safety for their members and guests and the preservation and protection of their physical property.

The goal of having a fire sprinkler system is twofold:
  • To reduce significantly or entirely the risk of fatalities in a sorority chapter house due to fires
  • To reduce significantly the ultimate property damage of the claim and disruption to your operations

As a reminder where a fire sprinkler system is installed, the property owner or house corporation has the benefit of a forty percent (40%) credit to their property insurance premium, which is a substantial financial benefit to the property owner.

Those chapter houses that are sprinklered were generally following the NFPA Code 13R, which required sprinklers everywhere except in the attic space. There was the assumption that there would be limited access to the atticspace and the attic would be clear of storage and of any other use. The cost advantages of the NFPA 13R code over the prior code of NFPA 13 are substantial, ranging roughly 40-60 percent less. This is due to several reasons:
  • Pipe material for 13R can be plastic instead of steel (product cost and installation costs are substantially higher with steel materials)
  • Attics do not have to be sprinklered if limited access and use

A trend has emerged with more fires occurring in the attic which has caused the property insurance underwriter some concern. Since there are no sprinklers in the attic, a fire that begins in the attic burns for a period of time undiscovered. It is only when the roofing is burned through and/or burns through the ceiling of the floor below that the building fire is detected. Valuable time has been lost where the fire department has not been notified as the sprinkler system goes off only after the fire burns through another area beyond the original origin site. The fire results in more dollars loss per fire, it is harder to detect, it becomes larger in size, and it causes more widespread flame damage. Water damage also affects the dollar loss per fire since the fire is attached at the highest level by the fire department, affecting all of the floors below as opposed to a fire that occurs on lower floors only. 

We have considered how to address this exposure from a risk management stand point and offer up the two recommendations (applies to both sprinklered and non-sprinklered buildings):

1. Careful attention needs to be given to any electrical devices that may be operational in the attic, such as electric fans, humidifier, etc. Electrical malfunction is the leading cause of attic fires; three out of four of the largest fires in the MJ Sorority Department were due to electrical malfunction.

Any time that work is being done on these electrical devises, it is important to use contractors that have adequate insurance in case a claim occurs that arose out of their work on the item. Should the contractor cause the fire, then the insurance company would have recourse against the contractors own insurance coverage to pay for the damage to your property. See for more details on this matter.

It would also be wise to pay particular attention to the attic space after the work has been done to insure that the completed work appears to be functioning as intended.

2. Install a heat detection sensor or rate of rise detection/sensor, which is hooked up to your fire alarm system to give quick notice to the fire department of a fire in the attic and the occupants of the chapter house so they can evacuate. These devices can alert fire projection when the temperature in the area spikes up from a fire starting in the space. These sensors are relatively inexpensive and are connected to the fire alarm system. You need to contact your fire alarm system company to get more information of the additional risk management tool. Review this resource for additional details on heat detectors.

We are aware of a company, tattletale, that distributes these important fire safety tools. Tattletale is also a business partner with Travelers Insurance, the property and liability insurance company for MJ Sorority
clients, which enables MJ Sorority clients to have access to preferred pricing. These units are hooked up to the existing fire alarm system and are very reasonably priced. The monitoring system can also be used for many other purposes, such as security alarms.

Of our top four largest claims, three of the four started in an attic and the floors below were indeed sprinklered. As you can imagine when a fire occurs, the liability insurance company underwriter is very pleased that there has been no fatalities; however, the property insurance underwriter is less pleased because with an undetected attic fire, the cost of the ultimate loss is direct damage and loss of use claims are far more substantial than what they would have been if the attic had been sprinklered.

In order to preserve the 40 percent credit, we have two options as we see it:
  1. Install a sprinkler system in your attic, which would be outrageously expensive and impractical or
  2. Install one of the types of heat detectors, which has a very reasonable price tag
We urge you to review your system and if the attic is not sprinklered, make arrangements to get the rate-to-rise detectors/sensors installed. As we mentioned previously, the sprinklered buildings are eligible for a forty percent property premium discount. Based on the number of property fires and the extensive damage from these fires originating in the attic space, we will be requiring heat detectors in the attic space by January 2020. This additional risk management tool will more effective help reduce the risk when a fire occurs and helps you preserve the premium discount for the property coverage.

As a property owner, the safety of your resident members is one of your biggest responsibilities, and we believe that these additional risk management recommendations will help you control your risks. 

Share this article in its entirety here and for more specifics from Travelers Insurance click here.

2016 Risk Control Report

We recently reviewed the risk control findings from 2016 and summarized the most prevalent recommendations from risk control inspections across the county. 

Automatic Sprinkler Extension: Automatic sprinkler protection should be extended to the concealed attic space in accordance with the current edition of NFPA 13. This level of protection will reduce the potential property damage due to fire. Protection should be based on a light hazard occupancy with the design based on maximum density/minimum area of application. Sprinkler contractor's shop drawings and hydraulic calculations should be submitted to Travelers Risk Control for review and acceptance prior to installation.

Sleeping Room Doors: To help prevent the spread of fire and smoke to and from the room, all sleeping room doors should have a fire protecting rating of at least 20 minutes and be self-closing in accordance with NFPA 101-2012, Sections This would include the study rooms which may be occasionally used for sleeping. 

Non-owned Auto Controls: Employees, members, and volunteers driving their personally owned/leased or rented/hired vehicles on sorority business present an additional liability exposure to your organization. 

Individuals who use their own vehicles on behalf of the fraternity/sorority must look to their own automobile insurance for protection should they be involved in an automobile accident. We recommend that members, volunteers, and employees carry a minimum of $500,000 combined single limits on their personal automobile policies.

Newest Resources

If this winter is any indication, especially in the East and Midwest, we are in for an active spring. Review this Tornado Protection and Preparation resource from Travelers Risk Control.
Sample cell phone use policy for your volunteers and additional cell phone safety recommendations for those individuals who drive on behalf of your organization. 
There are some important changes to the Crime Coverage. If you haven't already, review our new Crime Risk Management Best Practices resource.
We are revamping with a launch date soon. Email Sara Sterley, Director of Risk Management Education, with your suggestions!
We have 50+ frequently asked questions answered at the FAQs section of - check them out and let us know any that we've missed.
Claims Examples and case studies make great content for risk management presentations. Check out our various examples here.

Q: Are there any insurance recommendations for outdoor fire pits or fireplaces?

A: The insurance company's loss control department discourages the installation of exterior wood burning pits or similar setups for the following reasons:
  • Such a device could possibly create sparks or burning embers, which could be captured by strong winds and possibly cause a building and/or grass fire.
  • There would be the possibility that the unit is left unattended at times, especially after the fire has effectively died down for the evening. The fire could actually still be smoldering and could possibly re-ignite, causing problems as noted above.
  • Any time someone goes to add additional wood to a fire already going, there would be the potential for burns.
  • There would be a burn potential when persons initially ignite the fire, especially if they pour a large amount of a highly flammable fluid onto the wood to start the fire, such as charcoal lighter (could be spilled onto their persons, making this a potentially critical situation).
  • If the pit is portable raises a number questions, all of which could cause problems, such as just how sturdy is the pit? What if someone tries to move/push it while it is still burning or is still hot? (It could fall over, resulting in a fire and/or burns). What if the unit is initially positioned too close to a building or other combustibles and then lighted?

For many more frequently asked questions, check out our FAQs on our website.

MJ Sorority Division: Who To Contact

If you're planning an event or have a Certificate of Insurance requests, please contact Ruth Akers.
For all claim questions, please contact Heather Cox.

For contact changes, please contact Jessica Gunter.
For educational resources and website related questions, please contact Sara Sterley.
For all other questions or requests, please contact your organization's Client Executive.

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Additional resources all the time

We are constantly updating our existing resources and developing new resources, so that we can enable our clients to proactively address trends before they become problematic.

Be sure to bookmark our website at - the premier place for all things women's fraternity and sorority risk management.

Contact Sara Sterley, Director of Risk Management Education, with your suggestions.
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