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Sprinkler Mandate Poses Question of Cost vs. Safety

A new mandate from the State Fire Marshal is being debated at the Statehouse.  Those opposed to new regulations are hoping lawmakers will make the final decision in this battle between the State Fire Marshal and home builders.

While organizations and lawmakers point out the thousands of dollars this mandate could potentially cost home builders, fire fighters here and across the state, ask, can you put price on a life-saving device?  That's the question being debated in the House.

The State Fire Marshal is pushing for a mandate that would force the installation of fire sprinklers in all new home construction.

"Life safety is huge and if we can prevent the fire, or hold the fire in check, prior to the fire department's arrival, that gives our citizens a better chance to escape that building that may be on fire," said Springfield Fire Chief Ken Fustin.

But, some area organizations are calling the mandate unnecessary.

"The homes built today all have smoke detectors that are wired and we have the national statistics that show that 99.4% of lives are saved because you're awake, you're woken up, you get out of the house," said Dean Graven, representative with the Springfield Area Home Builders Association.

They also call it unfair.

"You're looking at a minimum of $6,000, to as much as $15,000, to have that put in,"  said Graven.

In fact, Graven says, the smaller the town you're building in, the more your cost goes up.

"Small communities:  Auburn, Pleasant Plains, even Chatham, they do not have the water pressure... to support it... you would have to have, not only a fire sprinkler, but you'd have to have an electric generator, gas powered, and you'd have to have booster pumps, so that's why these costs just keep mounting," said Graven.

But Fustin says the Fire Marshal's office has calculated the estimated cost differently.

"Fire Marshall's office has stated figures of about $1.60 to $1.70 per square foot that would be added to the cost of a new home," said Fustin, which adds up to a much smaller number than home builders quote.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are against the mandate.

"The cost of the sprinklers will actually keep a lot of people from building a home," said Rich Brauer, Republican Representative from District 87.

So, they've drawn up a bill to fight it.

"We don't think this is really feasible to put this mandate, on business, on new home construction," said Brauer.

Fire Chief Ken Fustin says this bill is attempting to strip the Fire Marshal of his ability to implement the requirement of fire sprinklers in new homes, which shouldn't be allowed to happen, because he believes, above all else, should come the safety of the citizens.

One thing that neither the bill, nor the mandate, covers is the safety of older homes.

Since the use of hard wired smoke alarms, newer homes have been made more safe, but many older homes still use battery-operated devices, which could be riskier for residents.