I was invited to speak recently at the meeting of the Federation of State and Provincial Professional Fire Fighters about the attempt of home builders to block residential sprinklers. We have seen these bills pop up in several states in the last few months. I was grateful for the invitation to meet with this key group of fire safety advocates, and heartened by the concern that they showed at what was happening.
One of my worries is that since the states are in fiscal crisis, the legislatures and the fire service organizations will be so occupied with issues like taxes and layoffs that residential sprinkler opponents will be able to slip these bills through without anybody noticing. I want to make sure that everyone in the fire service knows what is going on and is vigilant. We have had some setbacks in states including North Dakota, Idaho and Utah where the Governors have signed anti- sprinkler bills into law. But we have also had some victories in Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
We are in the thick of the fight now, and I was very happy at the response from the State and Provincial Professional Fire Fighters. I spoke after they had heard from IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. Harold Schaitberger is a force in the country in all matters that concern the well being of fire fighters and their safety, and the Federation includes some of the savviest people in the fire service so I knew it would be a great audience to reach on this issue right away.
My discussions with those in attendance confirmed for me how important this issue is to the fire service and how committed they are to work with us not just to kill these bills but to get the legislatures to support affirmatively sprinkler requirements. All of the members of this group were fire fighters so they know firsthand how many tragedies would be prevented by residential sprinklers. They have answered calls where families have perished needlessly and gone to too many fire fighter funerals, so nobody has to convince them about the value of sprinklers.
But they also understand what an outrageous overreach this is by a special interest and what a horrible precedent it sets. If the home builders succeed at this there will be no stopping other groups that might see it in their economic interest to block important safety requirements including reversing hard earned provisions that protect fire fighters like those in NFPA 1710.
The key to our success is to make sure that the entire fire service makes its voice heard when state legislatures are at work. That’s why we are going to be spending a lot of time in the coming months with all of our friends in the fire service sounding the alarm.
- Jim Shannon