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Officials push for home sprinkler systems

POSTED: November 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

In 2007, an estimated 78 percent of all structural fires occurred in residences, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.


While U.S. fire deaths have dramatically declined over the last three decades, due to the number of smoke alarms in homes, fire officials across the country believe a new measure in residential construction could further their lifesaving efforts.


Last month, 73 percent of the members of the International Code Council voted in favor of an ordinance that would require sprinkler systems in every new residence in the country.


“Sprinklers are the single biggest advantage in fire safety in the past 30 years, when smoke detectors came out,” said Dawson County Fire Inspector Capt. Jeff Bailey, one of four delegates from Dawson County Emergency Services who traveled to Minneapolis for the vote.


“Smoke detectors increase safety tremendously, but they only warn people. Sprinklers put fire out or bide more time for help to arrive or to react to it. I want to see a sprinkler system in every new home in the county,” he said.


Voting on the important life saving measure, Bailey said, was “a privilege and an honor. We went representing the taxpayers’ best interest in fire safety.”


Fire services across the country have lobbied for years to pass the ordinance, while home builders and developers have fought against the measure, saying the added cost of sprinklers would make homes unaffordable. 


The U.S. Fire Administration objects to the claim, adding a sprinkler system cost one to two percent of the total construction costs, comparable to what many people pay for carpet upgrades, a paved driveway or a whirlpool bath.


Kaaren Mann, a fire safety advocate and the mother of a fire victim stated in her testimony in favor of the ordinance, “The cost to put sprinklers into a home where my daughter died would have been less than what I had to pay for the flowers at her funeral.”


The sprinkler mandate will first appear in the 2009 International Residential Code, which will be published by the end of the year. Forty-six states use the IRC as the basis of regulating new home construction.


“We’re now going to move forward at the state and local level to ensure new code requirement is adopted,” said Ronny Coleman, president of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition.


The 2009 International Code, which is merely a model code document, will require sprinklers in new one- and two-family residences as of Jan. 1, 2011.


While the code will go into affect in 2011, it does not become law in any jurisdiction until the local governments conduct an adoption process.


Ultimately, the decision to adopt the sprinkler requirement will rest with the jurisdiction’s administrative or legislative body charged with adoption of the new code, Bailey said.


Scottsdale, Ariz. was the first major U.S. jurisdiction to require residential sprinklers more than 20 years ago and now has more than 40,000 homes protected by sprinkler systems.


“Today, more than 95 percent of homes in the country have smoke alarms,” Bailey said. “In 10-15 years, sprinklers in homes will be the same, something people expect.”


E-mail Michele Hester at


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