Chief Bruce Kline, chairman of the South Carolina Fire Sprinkler Coalition responded to a letter to the editor published in Charleston’s The Post and Courier newspaper. Submitted by Don McDonough, Division President, Ryland Homes, his letter claims “costly sprinkler regulations would limit consumer choices.” In the letter, published June 6, this sprinkler opponent cites well known “red herring” arguments and provides highly inflated costs of home fire sprinkler systems.
Mr. McDonough’s letter to the editor was prompted by advertising that the SC Fire Sprinkler coalition published in The Post and Courier to coincide with a safety campaign that was launched in SC on May 22; whereby firefighters teamed up with NFPA to raise awareness of the importance of home fire sprinkler requirements.
In his letter, Mr. McDonough says that the most relevant discussion point “is one word: Freedom.” He argues the following against the requirement:
- Sprinkler systems only modestly improve the chances of saving a life in the event of a fire.
- More than 34 states have amended or passed legislation prohibiting mandatory sprinkler mandates in new one- and two-family dwellings.
- The cost of a sprinkler system included in a new home is estimated to be $26 per square foot.
- New homes are built with fire stopping techniques and less flammable materials than older homes and do not, in fact, burn faster and hotter as the ad claims.
- A person building a new, detached home should decide for himself or herself whether the cost of a sprinkler system is worth the perceived benefit.
Chief Kline’s response follows:
This is in response to the letter by Don McDonough, Division President, Ryland Homes. I will explain why the inclusion of fire sprinklers in all new one- and two- family home construction is important.
All national model codes mandate fire sprinklers in all new home construction. Model codes represent minimum standards to achieve a reasonable level of safety. Removing the fire sprinkler requirement from the adopted code will represent substandard construction of one- and two-family dwellings in South Carolina.
One of the most important arguments for fire sprinklers is simple -- sprinklers save lives. NFPA 13D sprinkler systems provide a cost effective, life safety system intended to aid in the detection and control of fire and to prevent flashover (total involvement) in the room of fire origin and to improve the chance for occupants to escape or be evacuated.
Those at greatest risk are older adults, young children and persons with disabilities who may not be able to exit on their own, even with working smoke alarms. They may need the additional escape time provided by home fire sprinkler systems.
Working smoke alarms cut the risk of dying in a home fire by 50 percent. If you have a reported fire in your home, the risk of dying decreases by 83 percent when sprinklers are present.
Mr. McDonough cites an NFPA statistic of 99.4% to illustrate the effectiveness of smoke alarms. This NFPA statistic reflects survivability and is based on the total number of reported fires, the vast majority of which are not fatal. Does that mean 2,500 deaths on average every year are acceptable? Most people would say no. It is similar to saying that because the survivability of motor vehicle crashes, which is also around 99.4% that we should not look for ways to improve vehicle safety.
A national study found that the cost of installing home fire sprinklers averages $1.61 per square sprinklered foot for new construction. In South Carolina the price averages $1.50. I would challenge Mr. McDonough to provide quotes to substantiate the $26 per square foot for a multipurpose, NFPA 13D home fire sprinkler system.
New methods of construction and home contents do negatively impact occupant and firefighter safety. A study by Underwriter Laboratories (UL) found that lightweight engineered wood systems fail as early as six minutes when exposed to fire; fires in new homes with modern contents do burn faster and hotter and escape times are shorter. Fire sprinklers in the code can offset these dangers. Fire sprinklers also provide a safer environment for firefighters, the majority of which VOLUNTEER for this job in South Carolina. Aren’t their lives worth protecting?
Mr. McDonough proposes that freedom of choice is the reason to remove this provision from the code. Only the original buyers of “custom homes” will be able to make the choice. Buyers of “spec” homes and subsequent buyers will be deprived of that ability. Those who oppose fire sprinkler system requirements in new home construction are not protecting consumer choice, they are opposing minimum life safety requirements.
Removing this provision from the residential code adoption in South Carolina will weaken public safety, ignores the proven impact of home fire sprinklers, and disregards the long established consensus code process. The South Carolina Fire Sprinkler Coalition has been working diligently to increase awareness of the issue and to ensure a smooth transition toward the implementation of the requirement on January 1, 2014.
Chief Kline’s response was kept brief to increase the odds of being published. As of this date, the letter remains unpublished. The facts contained in the response letter are vastly substantiated by the following facts:
- The Fire Protection Research Foundations’ Home Fire Sprinkler Cost Assessment report revealed that the cost of installing home fire sprinklers averages $1.61 per square sprinklered foot (SF) for new construction. With incentives that communities are likely to offer, this price may be even lower by one-third.
- A comparison of housing starts in similar communities found no impact in the number of homes being built or in cost between the communities that require fire sprinklers and in communities that do not.
- When older housing is associated with fire death NFPA statistics show higher fire death rates are seen in states with larger percentages of people who possess one or more of the following characteristics: are black, poor, smoke, have less formal education, or who live in rural areas. The Southern region of the United States has a disproportionate number of high risk populations.
- In 2008, Underwriters Laboratories® (UL) conducted a study. The findings of the report, Structural Stability of Engineered Lumber in Fire Conditions, point to the failure of lightweight engineered wood systems when exposed to fire. The same UL study found that the synthetic construction of today’s home furnishings add to the increased risk by providing a greater fuel load. Larger homes, open spaces, increased fuel loads, void spaces, and changing building materials contribute to:
- Faster fire propagation
- Shorter time to flashover
- Rapid changes in fire dynamics
- Shorter escape time
- Shorter time to collapse
An OSHA report published in 2006 stated: “Wherever these lightweight construction techniques are used, serious consideration should be given to providing sprinkler protection throughout the building, if not already required, as…an important feature for firefighter safety.”
To further dispute the high cost provided by Mr. Mc Donough an online comment on the newspaper's website posted by Mr. Charles Stewart, owner of Phoenix Distributing, a plumbing contracting company that installs potable water home fire sprinklers systems and a vocal advocate for fire sprinklers in SC, states; "I know for a fact (and I have proof) that Ryland Charleston was offered sprinklers in at least two neighborhoods and several homes for a price of $2 per sq ft."
It is vitally important to remain vigilant to the dissemination of unsupported negative arguments by the opposition. NFPA remains committed to assist field advocates. If you see something negative published in your communities’ media regarding the home fire sprinkler requirement contact us and we will provide you with the facts and will be happy to assist you with developing your response.