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Letters to the Editor

Don't inflate costs to bolster argument against fire sprinklers

It’s disconcerting for public safety officials when we hear about local jurisdictions rejecting sprinkler requirements in newly constructed homes. It’s also disconcerting when opponents of fire sprinklers inflate the costs to bolster their arguments against automatic fire sprinklers. Such is the way things apparently played out on October 1st when the Geneva Town Council voted 8-1 on an ordinance to adopt the latest edition of international building codes.

According to the National Protection Association (NFPA), fire sprinklers on average cost $1.35 per square foot. In addition, insurance companies will offer a discount on home policies for homes protected by fire sprinklers. I question the $20,000 to $30,000 cost estimate cited in the article for a home sprinkler system -- that is unless a house is over 10,000 square feet.

True, homeowners will seldom request fire sprinklers when they meet with contractors to discuss their dream homes. Unfortunately, most Americans have this attitude that a fire will never occur in their own homes.  But the reality is that the fire service responded to approximately 360,000 fires in home structures in 2017 according to NFPA. These fires resulted in the deaths of approximately 2,600 victims and property losses exceeding $7.7 billion.

Why the reluctance with fire sprinklers in the homes? Look at the progress that has been made in auto safety thanks to airbags, anti-lock brakes, and other safety systems. The cost of these features has been passed along to the buyer without much hue and cry. But when it comes to safeguarding our homes where we spend a preponderance of our time, there’s still resistance in communities across our nation to make wise decisions that will save more lives.

Kudos to Councilwoman Jeanne McGowan for taking a stand in support of the public safety community on this important issue. While this is a local decision, I have seen too many victims of fire disasters across the nation to sit idle when I read about these battles being fought at the local level.

Bill Webb

Executive Director, Congressional Fire Services Institute

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