Home fire sprinkler debate continues in Indiana

Home fire sprinkler debate continues in Indiana

You've seen fire sprinklers in offices, businesses and apartments. Now firefighters and the sprinkler industry want to make them mandatory for new Indiana homes.

The International Residential Code, which most states use as the foundation of their own building codes, added the fire sprinkler requirement in 2009. Indiana is operating under the 2003 IRC and is considering the 2009 version for adoption this year.

A state committee has approved the 2009 IRC, minus the sprinkler rule, but the code is still subject to a public hearing and governor approval.

It's the "mandatory" part that rankles longtime highly rated Indianapolis builder Will Wright of Will Wright Building Corp in Carmel, Ind. Buying fire sprinklers should be up to homeowners, he says.

"Government just has to limit itself and stop trying to put us in a state of suspended adolescence," Wright says. "We all grow up to make our own decisions."

The Indiana Builders Association and the National Association of Home Builders also oppose the sprinkler rule. Carlie Hopper, IBA spokeswoman, says sprinklers add safety but so do panic rooms and other items some people can't afford. "They should be market-driven," she says. "This is one of those things that will price first-time buyers out of the market."

But fire safety officials say home fire sprinklers save lives. In combination with smoke alarms, they reduce the risk of dying in a fire by 82 percent, a 19 percent improvement over smoke alarms alone, according to one study cited by the U.S. Fire Administration. The USFA is endorsing mandatory residential fire sprinklers nationwide.

Numerous states are now considering the 2009 IRC, but California, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are the only states so far to adopt it with the sprinkler requirement intact. Still, the New Hampshire House of Representatives has passed a bill to block the mandate and Pennsylvania homebuilders are seeking a court injunction. Many cities, including Scottsdale, Ariz., already require home fire sprinklers.

Bruce Knott, fire marshal for Carmel, Ind., says sprinklers make more sense in homes than in businesses. "Where we have our fatalities and most of our fires are at home," he says.

Nationally, 84 percent of all fire deaths happen in homes, according to the USFA.

Carmel has had two fire deaths in 13 years. Fishers has had one in 50 years: a 2-year-old boy in 2006 who died in a "built-to-code modern house with a full alarm system," says Ron Lipps, deputy fire marshal for Fishers. The fire started in the toddler's room and the parents couldn't get to their son in time. It was a tragedy sprinklers "absolutely" could have stopped, he says.

Fishers requires all owners of new homes to sign a paper acknowledging the availability of a fire sprinkler system, but Lipps says few people install them. "We've never had buy-in from the home builders," he says. "I've heard some folks say the builder told them, 'You don't want to do that. It's too expensive.' "

The cost is about $1.61 per square foot, according to the National Fire Protection Association, a sprinkler industry group. The IBA says the cost is more like $2.66 to $6.88 a square foot.

Hopper says one-third of Indiana homes are rural and adding fire sprinklers to a well system requires storage tanks and costs more than a city system.

Fred Pervine, assistant fire marshal with the Indianapolis Fire Department, says a sprinkler system is even more important in a rural area, where the fire department might be farther away.

"Every second or minute a fire is not suppressed, it gets bigger and bigger," he says. "If I was in a rural area, I would want it even more."

Hopper also points out that home fire deaths already are trending downward. Indeed, although the number of fires in one- and two-family homes is up 7 percent in 10 years nationwide, the number of deaths is down 11 percent, according to the USFA. The trend in Indiana is less clear. There were 29 deaths in 2009, 28 in 2008, 47 in 2007, 45 in 2006, 36 in 2005 and 46 in 2004.

Also, older homes are more prone to fire, Hopper says. Federal and local agencies don't track the age of homes that catch on fire, but she says anecdotal evidence points to older homes as the problem.

"It's not new construction that's going up in flames," she says.

Pervine disagrees, and along with other firefighters points out that cooking, which has nothing to do with a home’s age, is the No. 1 cause of house fires. Regardless, 
he says we’ve got to move forward 
to protect future generations.

"We need to think about our grandchildren," he says. "They will be safer today if we start putting sprinklers in homes."


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Comments

Tom Simmons

Subject:

ACCIDENTAL ACTIVATION: UNLIKELY??? Lets tell the truth! A sprinkler head is activated when the tiny GLASS tube with antifreeze in it gets hot enough to boil the antifreeze and break the glass. The valve then opens and the water comes out. Still think you kids cant accidentally set off your fire sprinkler head???

Tom Simmons

Subject:

working smoke alarms save lives. How much will your homeowners insurance cost you after your children accidentally (or on purpose) hit the sprinkler head breaking the glass and causing it to ruin half the house with water 2 or 3 times??? People never analyze how these new laws are taking our rights away from us. The law that gives the government the right to implement building codes clearly expresses that the codes are to protect the health and safety of the inhabitants ONLY. Smoke alarms do this and they go off LONG before there is enough heat generated by a fire to set off a sprinkler. The American right and dream to be able to pursue happiness and home ownership is being stolen from the people - one code at a time!

Doug

Subject:

I am a safety engineer with over 20 years experience in evaluating risk and safety on aircraft engines. I evaluated the various claims by the Indiana Builders association and NFPA, then ran my own safety/cost assessment. Based on a 50% improvement versus smoke detectors (higher than quoted above) and for an additional cost of $2 per person, this results in an average cost of 45 million dollars cost to the consumer per life saved. The US gove (Dept Transportation) has a guideline of 5.9 million dollars for the "Value of a life" for statistical safety studies. I understand the desire to save lives, but there are better or at least more cost effective ways to save lives.

Tom Simmons

Subject:

Obviously I know way more than you. Sprinkler heads have nothing to do with the insanity of this code. By the time the heat is great enough to set off a sprinkler, the inhabitants will have already died from smoke inhalation. It is as simply as that. sprinklers only save lives by slowing a fire in large buildings long enough for all of the people (usually on other floors) to get out. In a home they will never save lives. The law that allows for building codes states to "protect the health and safety" Sprinklers in a home do NOT do this. Smoke alarms are the first and only line of protection from a fire.

Mike

Subject: This is flat wrong Tom, as

This is flat wrong Tom, as are pretty much all of your other uneducated comments on the subject. Watch a burn demonstration of a residential sprinkler and see how fast a sprinkler head reacts. It's long before "flashover" which is when people start dying. Additionally sprinkler heads are hard to set off and most that are installed in homes have a decorative cover plate that also protects the element of the sprinkler from damage. As long as you keep the cover plates in tact it would be nearly impossible for a child to set off the sprinkler. Even without cover plates it's a million to one shot to hit the element, I'm aware of two instances where it's happened out of the tens of millions of sprinklers out there, I'm sure there have been more, but it's no more common or likely than your pipes in your home bursting, faucets being left running, toilets overflowing or any other building system failure leading to damage.

ALittle CommonSense

Subject:

O.k. Mr. Simmons I get the point. With your only two comments here I can tell your problem is more economical than everything else. Please I can also tell you are not too well inform of the different kinds of sprinkler heads they are. What is it Save a life or worry about a kid popping a MERCURY HEAD SPRINKLER? Please study and investigate than talking too much you don't know!!!

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