Readers weigh in on recent post on sprinkler requirements

Blog Post created by lorrainecarli Employee on Jan 20, 2011

Our blog on the importance of home fire sprinklers draws a few comments from time to time as readers are moved by the stories and facts that appear in support of this fire safety effort. But we pushed a few more buttons with last week’s post saying that home fire sprinklers should be required as opposed to leaving the decision to a consumer choice. It garnered both praise and criticism.

The post advocated for requiring home fire sprinklers in new construction of one and two family homes, consistent with all model building codes. It took issue with a recent editorial that espoused the benefits of fire sprinklers but concluded consumers should make the choice. The premise of NFPA’s position for a mandatory requirement is simple. The wide range of individuals who participate in the code making process have the information and expertise to make decisions on what safety features are included in model building codes. Consumers do not have that same level of information on many of the safety features included in homes by code requirements – things like joist spacing, electric wiring, etc.

Those who criticized our view talked about why consumer choice is key.

One said, “What has happened to freedom of choice?? people should be able to make this decision for themselves. One thing about statistics is they are only as good as the person putting in the data. You can manipulate numbers to reflect what ever you want. Safety is always a good thing. Let's be real, how affordable will sprinkler systems in homes be? do you honestly think they will be maintained properly? how much will this cost towns & city's who will be inspecting to make sure proper testing is done? remember one thing we the people of the US have the right to choose and here is yet another example of that right being taken away. Ask the people what they want not tell them what they will do!!!”

Another said, “I for one am rather tired of big brother looking out for me because I am not smart enough to make that choice myself. It should not be regulated that we have to put in sprinklers in a single family home. It should be an option that insurance companies reward with lower rates. If the benefit is sufficient to allow the insurance rates to drop to a level that has a payback then the consumer will want them. Let the free market do its job.”

Another said, “I doubt you will post this comment but I believe fire sprinkler should remain a consumer choice. A person is 36 times more likely to die from an accidental fall or poison than to die in a home equipped with a simple smoke alarm. Six time as many people reportedly die texting while driving a vehicle. If you want to improve home safety, we should first require Automatic External Deliberators. Over 250,000 people die each year from sudden cardiac events vs. just 1,000 in homes with working smoke alarms. This is a terrible misuse of money.”

A couple of sprinkler proponents took issue with the line that reads, “Everyone, whether they live in the home or is called to fight a fire deserves the highest level of fire safety.” Both said that the highest level of fire safety would have to be a non-combustible house, with non-combustible contents.

Sure, that would be ideal, but that doesn’t exist. Sprinklers do exist and should be in every new home.

The standard of home fire safety has been set. All model codes now require fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes and townhomes. National model codes represent minimum standards of safety.

Those in support of mandatory requirements made strong arguments. One said:

"You only have to watch any demonstration to become a believer. Any insurance company can tell you that once a fire gets into the structure of a wood frame house --and this includes today's brick houses -- you can consider it a total loss. Sprinklers will keep the fire cool, keep it localized to a stuffed sofa, carpet, whatever it starts in, and possibly extinguish it, long before the fire dept. ever gets the call. Water damage, sure. And a floor and some sheetrock, etc., are way cheaper than a whole house."

A fire chief weighed in saying, “Every experienced firefighter and fire professional understands the benefits of automatic sprinkler protection. I agree with the point of view that sprinklers should not be a 'choice', but should be a requirement. However, in any discussion of sprinkler systems, of equal concern to me is my belief that NFPA 13R, by excluding exterior balconies, attics etc. from coverage, is too weak…In my opinion, it is time NFPA revised or eliminated 13R and required at a minimum, protection of exterior balconies and attic soffits.”

To those who took the time to write, thanks. Not sure we can convince the naysayers otherwise, but there is certainly lots of facts and figures to try at www.firesprinklerinitiative.org. If the facts don’t convince you sprinkler requirements are the way to go, listen to those who have been impacted by fire at www.firesprinklerinitiative.org/faces.

- Lorraine Carli