CHICAGO, IL (April 27, 2019) –
Leslie Wedge: Fire Sprinkler Public Educator and Retired Fire Chief
Redford Fire Department, Redford, Michigan
By: Tom Lia, NIFSAB Executive Director
Through working this job as I have for the last 20 years and after switching careers from the fire service to NIFSAB, I often wondered: is there anyone else out there doing this type of work? Or am I the only one crazy enough? I am happy to report that I am not as paranoid as I thought as there are many individuals, thank God. Leslie (Les) Wedge is one of those individuals we thought you would like to know.
When Les Wedge began his career as a firefighter many years ago, it was also the beginning of his education on residential fire sprinklers and how they work.
During his time as the Redford Township Fire Marshal in Michigan, Wedge was caring for his father who lived alone. When he was promoted to Fire Chief, he was concerned because his father’s home, built in the 1940s, was not protected with fire sprinklers. Wedge decided he wanted to protect his dad.
He approached an educator with Sprinkler Fitters Local 704 to see if they would collaborate on the project through their apprenticeship program. Through the apprenticeship program, students installed the fire sprinkler system in accordance with NFPA 13D, the design standard for one and two family homes. While working closely with city building officials, Wedge arranged a public education demonstration and training event for local citizens and fire departments. He utilized part of an uninhabitable home and side-by-side demonstration units. After the event, he approached the leaders of Sprinkler Fitters Local 704 to see if they would collaborate.
Years after the system was installed, Wedge’s father passed away. He prepared the home for sale, putting the house on the market with a real estate agent he knew in town. The agent was not familiar with home fire sprinklers and didn’t recognize the value home fire sprinklers would add to the home. Wedge took the opportunity to educate the real estate agent using materials from the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC). The real estate agent agreed that the price of the home should be higher. A family purchased the home at the higher price. Wedge knew his father would be so pleased that the family living in the home would be protected from fire.
Redford Township required new construction homes to be protected with fire sprinklers, but Wedge wanted to see all homes protected, especially because so many were rentals. Although he worked diligently to make that happen, it did not become an ordinance by the time he retired in 2009.
While Wedge was in the fire service, he attended a FIRE TEAM USA informational and training event on fire protection where there were a number of fire sprinkler contractors. The event inspired Wedge to create another educational program: building a traveling side-by-side fire sprinkler demonstration trailer for use at fire safety events and other community functions. The event also marked the beginning of Wedge’s partnership with NFSA Regional Manager Ron Brown, contractors he met at FIRE TEAM USA, and Sprinkler Fitters Local 704.
Sprinkler Fitters Local 704 bought the trailer. They decided not to permanently place the two rooms on the trailer because they wanted to use it for a variety of purposes. Instead, apprentices would set them up and tear them down after each demonstration. The sprinkler contractor who assisted with the development of the trailer also hired a number of the apprentices involved in the installation of the fire sprinkler system in Wedge’s dad’s house.
Now retired, Wedge continues to educate the public about home fire sprinklers by using Sparky’s Club House, a 12’ x 12’ canopy fitted with piping and a simulated riser to depict a home fire sprinkler system. For the kids, he fitted a super soaker with a fire sprinkler screwed on to the end. Water is sucked in from a bucket, and Wedge explains how the sprinkler works in the room with the fire while the kids push the water out, showing them how the water sprays, controls, and extinguishes the fire. Wedge also instructs through videos and by disseminating an assortment of educational materials.
At the end of this month, Wedge will be at the Frankenmuth Dog Bowl in Michigan, an event that attracts 50,000 to 60,000 people and dogs from all over the world to participate in a competition where dogs jump off a dock into a swimming pool. Wedge and his wife, Sue, will set up the Sparky Club House in support of the Frankenmuth Fire Department’s fire safety effort. This is Wedge’s 14th year at the event.
The week of May 19th, Wedge looks forward to participating in fire sprinkler education by performing demonstrations during National Fire Sprinkler Week.
During his long career and now retirement, Wedge has often shared his utmost respect and appreciation for the ongoing work performed by Executive Director Tom Lia and all involved with the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, as well as the efforts of the National Fire Sprinkler Association.