The following essay was written by Gregg Cleveland, fire chief for the La Crosse Fire Department in Wisconsin and chair of the Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition. A staunch supporter for home fire sprinklers, Cleveland masters the art of sarcasm:
For those that don’t remember, Ralph Nader was a formidable political activist in the 1960s and ‘70s. He put considerable pressure on the auto industry to make safety improvements, thus reducing the number of highway deaths. He was successful in convincing the auto industry to make cars safer for the American public. Unfortunately, Nader had it all wrong.
Many have compared the requirements or use of automatic fire sprinklers in homes to the auto industry’s development of safety features, specifically airbags. Similar to home fire sprinklers, airbags were once seen as an expensive and unnecessary feature. Cost is the biggest reason that state legislators pass laws prohibiting home fire sprinklers. The cost of fire sprinklers, say sprinkler opponents, increases the building costs of homes or apartments, no longer making them affordable. Laws prohibiting home fire sprinklers, they add, lower the cost of homes and rental properties and make them more affordable. Some view these laws as a type of economic-stimulus package.
What can the auto industry learn from laws prohibiting this type of safety at home? If the auto industry eliminated air bags, back up cameras, safety glass, ABS brakes, traction controls, and other safety-related features, the cost of cars and trucks would fall dramatically. The auto industry would see a dramatic increase in sales because vehicles would become more affordable. More people might buy new vehicles. Detroit could hire more auto workers, which would stimulate the country’s economy.
Obviously there would be a potential increase in injuries and deaths, but those losses would be offset by the economic stimulus. Hospitals and other medical facilities, intensive care units, and physical therapy personnel would see an increase in patients, creating a demand for skilled, health care workers. Colleges, universities, and technical colleges across America would flourish from the demand. Our unemployment rate should fall correspondingly.
State legislators could pass laws prohibiting vehicles to include additional safety improvements in vehicles, thus holding down the cost of vehicles and making them even more affordable. The Republican-lead legislature in Wisconsin is taking another step towards this type of economic stimulus via an Assembly bill, which would eliminate local sprinkler ordinances.
While I attended the public hearing and testified in opposition to repealing these ordinances, I am now rethinking my stance. Fewer sprinklers mean more fires. The increase in local property taxes would be offset by the increase in building activity and construction trades employment. Levy limits would no longer be an issue for local communities.
While I have dedicated my 37-year career to protecting lives and properties in several communities in Wisconsin, I realize I had it wrong, just like Ralph Nader.
The opinions expressed by Gregg Cleveland, a fire sprinkler advocate, are a sarcastic response to sprinkler opponents. He does not endorse the weakening of automobile safety requirements, just as doesn't endorse the weakening of model-building-code requirements for new homes, particularly the requirement for home fire sprinklers.