Take a behind-the-scenes look at how money and power are negatively impacting the safety of today’s homes.
Two stories recently appearing in ProPublica spotlight widespread campaigns by the homebuilding industry that successfully eliminated or prevented requirements for home fire sprinklers. According to the report, the housing industry has spent more than $517 million in the last decade on state politics and has been influential in thwarting sprinkler requirements in at least 25 states. Sprinkler opponents are also influencing state legislators while using its clout to impact code-making decisions in certain states.
- There were close to 40 injury-causing fires in homes built since 2009 (when all model building codes started requiring sprinklers in these settings) in seven states that effectively blocked a sprinkler requirement. In 2014 alone, home fires resulted in more than 2,700 fire deaths (the majority of all fire deaths) and approximately 12,000 injuries in the U.S., according to NFPA, which conducts annual research on home fires.
- According to the ProPublica story, New Jersey builders and realtors expended close to $750,000 in lobbying in 2015. That year, a bill to sprinkler all of the state’s one- and two-family homes advanced to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. He conditionally vetoed the bill, citing the sprinkler requirement would add thousands of dollars to homeowners. But the bill’s author, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said the veto “was a slap in the face to a community of public safety officials who have endorsed, supported, and fought for this legislation.”
- A two-year-old girl from Baldwinsville, New York, was killed in a 2015 fire in a home built only two years earlier. Had this home been built to the model building code, state fire officials noted at the time, it should have been sprinklered. Also that year, the state’s building code council was considering an update to its building code. The state’s fire service was optimistic that the tragedy would serve as the catalyst for requiring sprinklers. Sprinkler opponents produced radio and newspaper ads on the “job-killing proposal.” Additionally, a pro-builder member was appointed to the code council directly before a vote on sprinklers, states the article. The council eventually voted against the sprinkler rule. Around the time of the vote, New York City passed legislation to require sprinklers in all of its pet stores.
- Political donations and heavy lobbying by sprinkler opponents in South Carolina played a part in keeping a sprinkler requirement off the books there. The local homebuilding association, according to the report, annually honors the "most builder friendly legislator" and spent lobbying dollars emailing, calling, and visiting local legislators to fight sprinkler requirements.
As fire safety advocates, you have the power to combat this opposition. Use the free resources and research by the Fire Sprinkler Initiative to inform your legislators and code-making bodies that home fire sprinklers should not be negotiable in new homes.
Please read both articles, and give us your feedback on these reports. What are you witnessing in your region that might be viewed as anti-sprinkler? How are you helping to counter the opposition and promote the message that sprinklers save lives? Post your comments here. Look for the link above to login or to register for free to join NFPA’s Xchange.