Editor's note: For tips on how you can educate your community on the importance of residential sprinklers, check out an article from last year, "Spreading the word about sprinklers." For more on this weekend's vote, check out FireRescue1's news story.
New York is famous in movies for having lots of shady deals, schemes and backroom bargains. It's likely not true, or at least not more so than any other state in the United States. But I recently heard about a scheme that seems pretty dirty even by New York's mythical standards.
It seems there was a guy who was paid to build a product for a company. He did good work and was paid well to build this product. The problem was it tended to have some issues that could make it particularly dangerous during a fire, so quite often the things he built would be destroyed. Subsequently, the owners would go to their insurance carrier, get the money to have the product replaced and the guy would build it again and get paid again!
After a while, the business owners decided they didn't want to keep replacing the product and tried to get some safety measures included in it. They were willing to pay for the increased safety, but it just couldn't seem to be done. The major stumbling block to the new safety measures? The guy building the product! He was making money hand over fist building and rebuilding the product multiple times. Why in the world would he want it to be safe?
Some of you may have figured it out already, but for those who haven't the product is one and two family homes and the "guy" in the story is the homebuilders who are more concerned with profit than safety or the United States' economy. The safety measure is of course home sprinkler systems, and if the story sounds rotten, unfair and immoral, it is.
Hollywood blockbuster Think it about it. If we weren't living through this right now, it would sound like a pitch for the next Hollywood blockbuster. People making money on the destruction of the property they built, an insurance industry paying out untold sums to rebuild stuff that didn't have to burn down in the first place and innocent citizens dying. Of course, every story needs a dashing hero. And in this instance, it needs to be us.
The homebuilders who oppose this issue will say that sprinklers are too expensive. Too expensive compared to what? The only real cost is passed on to the homeowner. And although many insurance carriers don't give a discount for having a sprinkler, what do you think will happen when their claims go down over time? They will lower their rates. Decreased claim volume for the insurance industry will, over time, give them the room to try to make their services price competitive and rates will come down.
When homes don't burn, housing stock remains more stable and a better investment. When homes don't burn, local business doesn't feel the impact of families who can't spend additional dollars — people are forced to make difficult financial decisions with no roof over their heads. So the only person hurt financially by sprinklers is the homebuilder, who hopes to rebuild houses over and over on the back of all of us who have homeowners' insurance policies.
Luckily we have a chance to make this Hollywood story go our way. This week, from Wednesday through Monday, the Final Action Hearing of the International Codes Council (ICC) takes place in Minneapolis. At this hearing, the governmental members of the ICC will have the chance to have the International Residential Code require fire sprinklers in new homes. For most of us, the best way to get a state or local residential fire sprinkler ordinance is to get the IRC changed first so that our local codes can reference that alteration.
If you're not attending the hearing, find out if someone from your local government is. If they are, make sure they vote in favor of this. I'll bet you that the local homebuilders have already called your mayor, town supervisor or other elected official to try to ensure the local government representative attending the meeting votes against it. Everyone in your department and your family and friends should call as well and make sure that your community's representative supports RB64-07/08!
Residential fires are dangerous for civilians and firefighters alike and we have a chance to save some lives and prove our power as a fire service against some pretty big hitters. If we get this passed, we truly will be the heroes of this story.
About the author
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
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