Firefighters, insurance adjusters and police officers found vastly different results despite the nearly identical chairs, sofas, televisions, blinds, pictures and end tables in the two fake living rooms they set on fire Wednesday.
The difference? Sprinklers.
One room was destroyed, with furniture reduced to charred kindling after temperatures reached 2,000 degrees. The other room had part of a couch destroyed, with the rest for the most part saved by a sprinkler.
The rooms were burned as part of a fire investigation training at Davenport's Mark Frese Fire Training Center. The sprinkler activated when its heat sensor reached 165 degrees. The air temperature in the room with the flush-mounted sprinkler topped out at 140 degrees.
"There is no doubt a sprinkler will save lives and save structures," David Miller of Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance said as he led the class to the two rooms. "We'd rather pay for water damage than fire damage."
Miller, Grinnell's director of special investigations, pointed to a TV that was in the sprinkler-equipped room near the fire but showed no signs of fire damage. Residential sprinkler systems are designed to isolate fires and prevent them from spreading, not extinguish them.
"That is why we are trying to push them for new homes," he said.
Homebuilders in the area oppose regulations calling for sprinkler systems in new home construction because of the additional costs.
Showing off the effectiveness of sprinkler systems wasn't the only part of the training. A kitchen fire, an arson-type fire and how walls made of high density polyethylene burn hotly and quickly also were demonstrated.
"We typically don't see fires until they are out," Davenport Fire Marshal Mike Hayman said, "so we get to see their behavior and how it acts."
The kitchen fire grew slowly from a stove left unattended, catching a bag of chips on fire before the blaze spread to cabinets and food on a counter next to the stove and finally engulfing the room.
The fire set by spreading gasoline around a bedroom grew quickly from the accelerant spread around the room before consuming the furnishings in black smoke.
What was learned Wednesday will be taken into the classroom today as the training continues.
"Our ultimate goal is to find out how a fire started and where it started," Miller said. "You have to have an open mind and a willingness to learn from your peers."