In 1988, Chief Dave Grupp of the Long Grove, Illinois, Fire Protection District proposed the controversial idea of a home fire sprinkler ordinance to the Long Grove Village Board. His focus was on the safety of the residents, other occupants, and emergency responders.
In a past interview, Chief Grupp said he did not know there weren't any communities in Illinois that required home fire sprinklers. “At that time there wasn’t even a smoke detector requirement,” he said. “I just thought the home fire sprinkler ordinance was the right thing to do.”
Long Grove did not have a municipal water supply and had to rely on rural water supply operations for structure fires. Fire sprinklers presented a solution to controlling or extinguishing fires early in their stages of development. Ultimately, thanks to the educational efforts of Grupp, the elected officials voted in favor of the standalone ordinance on April 12, 1988.
Today more than 1,550 homes are protected in the small village. Long Grove was the first community in Illinois to adhere to NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprnkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. Maybe it was Grupp’s fire protection engineering background or perhaps the limitations of the village water supply that was his driving factor. Regardless, Chief Grupp was a trailblazer for public fire safety in Illinois by becoming the first of nearly 100 Illinois communities that now require home fire sprinklers.
The fruits of his labor are plentiful. On Christmas Eve 1993, Chief Grupp was on a fire call at a warehouse when another call came in for a house fire. Upon hearing the address, he was relieved to know that the house contained an NFPA 13D fire sprinkler system. Once the warehouse fire was contained, Chief Grupp spoke with the homeowner, who told him the fire had been extinguished before the arrival of the firefighters. At that moment, Chief Grupp was able to experience the effects of his advocacy.
Chief Grupp’s most important message of fire safety advocacy is that “a house without fire sprinklers is a defective house.” In more recent years, Chief Grupp has elaborated on that quote with a message for the fire service:
“When current fire officials respond to an alarm of a house fire in Long Grove today, they have a 50/50 chance that they are responding to a home equipped with residential fire sprinklers,” said Grupp. “To my fellow fire chiefs in communities that do not have an ordinance requiring residential fire sprinklers in all new residences: When the media interviews you or your staff following a residence fire, the difficulties the fire department had in extinguishing the fire were not because of a delayed alarm or the lack of working smoke detectors or nearby fire hydrants. Tell it like it is: The difficulties encountered by the fire department at this fire were because of a defective home. It did not have a residential fire sprinkler system. A house without a fire sprinkler system is a defective house.”
This post was written by Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting legislation, raising public awareness, and educating code officials and government policymakers on home fire sprinklers. Lia regularly offers his perspective on sprinkler activities taking place in his state and elsewhere.