The town that's been
a recent battleground. over the quantity of
new homes soon could be the front line over
a safety feature in those homes.
lobbying by members of the Vigilant Hose Co.
and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA),
Mayor Jim Hoover has asked the
board of commissioners to consider requiring
sprinkler systems in all single-family homes
built in the town. No legislation is
imminent, but the commissioners are slated
to discuss the issue at their Jan. 5
be the first local jurisdiction to mandate
sprinklers in all new homes. Mount Airy took
the step more than a year ago, and
Montgomery County recently made sprinklers a
requirement. The county regulation goes into
effect on Jan. 14.
residential sprinklers point to studies
showing that they save lives and property in
most types of fires. Critics, however,
contend that they increase home prices in an
area where finding affordable housing can be
problematic, adding a cost that many
The issue arose when
Ted Brennan, a former board
member, started sprinkler discussions with
the town's planning commission. They
continued briefly after Mr. Brennan lost a
re-election bid, but rezoning and annexation
requests soon took priority.
Most of those
requests are settled, so Mr. Hoover is
reviving the issue with the board. A few
members have said that, based on information
provided to the mayor by sprinkler
advocates, they currently favor a sprinkler
requirement, but they've only been exposed
to one side.
"I don't know what
this board will do," the mayor said.
No person or entity
affiliated with the town has taken a
definite stance on sprinklers.
Ed Henry, chairman
of the town's planning commission, has been
in the construction industry for decades and
thinks sprinklers are "a positive thing." He
said the planning commission had asked for
more data on the issue but didn't receive it
before land-use matters took center stage.
Because the USFA is
just outside Emmitsburg, local advocates of
a sprinkler mandate won't be hard to find.
In a September 2001
study by the National Fire Protection
Association (NFPA), researchers admitted
that few fires have occurred in homes with
sprinklers. However, based on the data
available, the report estimated that death
rates would drop by 74 percent if sprinklers
The report also
cited a National Institute of Standards and
Technology study that estimated that the
death rate would drop by 63 percent in homes
that have smoke detectors and 69 percent in
homes without smoke detectors if sprinklers
were added to one- and two-family dwellings.
Mr. Powell said
residential sprinkler systems have positive
financial benefits for homeowners, reducing
insurance costs and increasing the value of
the home. Some areas provide temporary tax
credits for homes with systems, he said, and
requiring the systems in new homes could
help the Vigilant Hose Company's response
area remain exempt from Frederick County's
But the value of
those benefits is difficult to determine.
Sprinkler proponents said they pay for
themselves over time, while opponents argue
that they don't.
The NFPA study said
that sprinklers add an average of 1 to 2
percent to the cost of a new home. That
means a $200,000 house would cost an extra
$2,000 to $4,000 if it were built with a
existing home with sprinklers costs about
twice as much, Mr. Powell said.
Service Office, which collects and analyzes
property and liability data for the
industry, recommends a credit of between 8
and 13 percent on the fire-protection
portion of insurance premiums for sprinkled
homes. Coverage varies greatly and prices
differ regionally, so placing a dollar
amount on such a credit is almost
Several calls to the
National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
over several days were not returned. But
Bryan Patchan, a former NAHB staffer who's
now the executive officer of the Frederick
County Builders Association (FCBA), said the
national organization historically has
opposed such mandates because the cost
exceeds the benefit.
"Certainly no one
wants to put a price tag on such tragedies.
But we can't make the world a perfectly safe
place in any regard," Mr. Patchan said.
While Emmitsburg may
debate requiring sprinklers, Frederick
County isn't considering such action. John
Gibson, the county's director of permits and
inspections, said it's hard for homes on
well systems to provide the volume and
pressure necessary for effective sprinkler
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