It has been two years since the last major attempt to upgrade Illinois’ statewide model code to include fire sprinklers in all new homes. Before it went to a public hearing, this measure was stopped by the political forces that were aligned to prevent a code upgrade.
Scare tactics and misinformation were used by opponents to manipulate elected officials. They were told that installation costs were three times as much as actual costs, homes sales would come to a halt, and fire sprinklers offered no insurance breaks, among other pieces of misinformation.
Since that time, Illinois elected a new governor, appointed a new state fire marshal, and saw a 40-percent turnover in state representatives and senators. Fire sprinkler advocates saw this as a prime opportunity to educate the newcomers with accurate sprinkler information while re-educating existing officials with materials by the Fire Sprinkler Initiative and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition. For many of the new officials, it would be the first time they receive information about fire safety or building codes. Since similar turnovers occur at the county and municipal level, these officials would also benefit from some sprinkler education.
To help us with this effort, the Illinois Fire Sprinkler Coalition sought and obtained a Bringing Safety Home Grant from the Fire Sprinkler Initiative. (Thanks, NFPA!) Combining the grant with both in-kind donations and monetary support, the coalition will be able to greatly reproduce needed educational materials.
The distribution method of the materials is also important. Instead of solely delivering via postal mail, the coalition plans to have the local fire service hand deliver items to the elected officials’ district offices in hopes of initiating dialogue. Since there is no pressure to act or vote on the subject, they will be able to have lengthier conversations on the subject with the politicians. The coalition plans to meet and greet 177 state officials (118 state representatives and 59 senators) by the end of October.
To all states and regions with a ban on fire sprinklers or looking to spread sprinkler education: Join us for a similar effort. Now is the time to invite newly elected officials to your events, whether that’s an open house at the fire station, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, or special training events.
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.