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Residential Sprinklers versus Firefighter Safety

On August 13 the New York City Council passed legislation that requires the installation of automatic fire sprinklers in pet stores that house animals for 24 hours. The deadline for compliance is December 2016. The councilman sponsoring the bill, Councilman Corey Johnson was quoted as saying the sprinklers will save the lives of animals and firefighters who attempt to rescue them.

Contrary to Mr. Johnson’s concerns for firefighters, on August 19, the New York State Codes Council, after extensive lobbying by the construction and realtors association, failed to adopt requiring the installation of residential sprinklers in all new one and two family homes. The Code will still require residential sprinklers in wood frame construction that exceeds two floors above grade. Needless to say this was a disappointing defeat for the New York fire service which had waged its own lobbying campaign in support of the requirement. Executive Director Jerry DeLuca of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs (NYSAFC) commented, “I am deeply disappointed that in voting to remove residential sprinklers from the statewide building code, members of the Code Council have chosen to put profit ahead of safety.”

On October 13 the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned the residential sprinkler requirement that required the installation of residential fire sprinklers in all newly constructed homes in excess of 4500 square feet. The Builders Association of the Twin Cities had initiated the appeal of the requirement by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry claiming the 4500 square foot size was an arbitrary figure and unsupported.

The Minnesota Court issued the following statement: “We are mindful today that we are declaring a rule adopted by an administrative agency of the state invalid. We do not do so lightly, but rather thoughtfully and unanimously. Nevertheless, we are bound to apply the law.” The executive director of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities also issued a statement: “Safety is the highest priority of Minnesota builders, and we are proud that new homes in Minnesota are among the safest in the nation. The sprinkler mandate would not have changed that safety record, but it would have made homes more expensive for Minnesota families. The Court’s decision to invalidate the sprinkler rule confirms what the public, legislature, and code experts have overwhelmingly stated all along, the sprinkler mandate is arbitrary and not supported.”

A few key issues in the debate over residential fire sprinklers is the additional cost for purchasing a new home requiring sprinkler installation when most homes require smoke detectors which do an excellent job in alerting the residents to exit the home in a timely and safe manner. Also, that the older homes will not be required to have sprinkler systems thereby presenting a greater loss of life hazard than the newer constructed homes. I don’t think so! The modern constructed homes burn faster and hotter due to contents and materials and the collapse dangers are increased by the use of truss construction in floors and roofs, posing an increased life hazard to firefighting personnel. The answer to this issue is for firefighters to operate from exterior positions, avoiding any possibility of being trapped in a collapse.

Over the past few years the concern for firefighter safety has increased due to the economic climate of the nation. The reductions in staffing in many municipal departments and the decrease in volunteer firefighters could be offset to some degree by the installation of fire sprinklers in the home. It would seem that with the reduced number of firefighters there would be a far greater justification for residential sprinklers. If all the newly constructed homes that have been built over the past 25 years had been required to have residential sprinklers installed maybe we could face the present economic crisis and firefighter cutbacks feeling a little more secure about the safety of firefighters and the people residing in those homes. New York City Councilman Corey Johnson was concerned with not only saving lives of animals, but firefighters also.

Till next time stay safe and God Bless!

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HENRY CAMPBELLSenior Correspondent

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