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Illinois is a rough-and-tumble political state with Chicago-style politics setting an example for the thousands of other units of government throughout the state. In fact, Illinois has more than 6,900 units of local government, more than any other U.S. state. Cities, villages, townships, school districts, fire districts, mosquito districts—you name it, we have it.
With so many local governments, there is a great variety of elected officials to communicate with and, therefore, an important need to know how to present a fire sprinkler requirement or code upgrade to government leaders. To help train our sprinkler advocates, we developed a mock board presentation simulation. What’s that, you ask?
Through role-playing scenarios, we put real pressure on participants during these mock meetings with government officials so they know how to prepare and react to their possible responses and concerns. We bring in a diverse group, assign roles, and provide basic scripts. Someone is made mayor while others take on the role of trustees/aldermen. We ask for both building and fire officials to participate in the presentation on the advocacy side and ask that consultants, third-party plan reviewers, and attorneys participate. The role of the anti-fire sprinkler person is typecast as the villain (sorry, real estate and homebuilder friends). Everyone excels at their positions.
We usually have 3-3 ties broken by the mayor's deciding vote. And a passing vote, 4-2 in favor without the mayor voting, is considered a good win. Like The Apprentice, it’s fun, but there are winners and losers. This is why preparation is needed.
In the real world, the first step for many local governments is having fire chiefs or building officials introduce the proposals. It might need support from a citizen advisory committee (builders, architects, construction, trades), where it could get nixed before any board member has input. This is another part of the process that needs to be addressed by sprinkler advocates.
Attempting to pass a sprinkler requirement needs all of your wits, planning, political prowess, and desire to protect your community. These simulations can be an important precursor for the actual event, which could be in your immediate future.
The proof of this type of preparation is in the pudding. In 2015, two more Illinois towns—Oak Park and Elwood—passed ordinances in accordance with NFPA 13D, +Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes+. There are now 100 Illinois communities with home fire sprinkler requirements. For that, we are grateful.
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.