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Town will consider sprinkler mandate

Chris Patterson

Emmitsburg Commission President William B. O'Neil Jr. wants to see the town adopt an ordinance requiring sprinklers in new homes.

"Anyone with children would want sprinklers, to keep them safe," O'Neil said in support of the ordinance he will introduce at a town meeting Wednesday.

The ordinance would require sprinklers in newly constructed homes. Townhouses are also included in the ordinance, but a state law already mandates sprinklers in new townhouses.

O'Neil said the town's board would consider the ordinance Wednesday, hear testimony from experts on fire safety and take public comment. O'Neil acknowledges builders and developers may be apprehensive about the ordinance.

The cost of installing the sprinklers is a consideration, but not necessarily a concern to one major builder in the area.

Randy Krom, division manager for Ryan Homes, said he is not concerned about how a sprinkler system will affect Ryan Homes. It shouldn't affect their sales, he said, but it may affect the people buying the homes and cause them to sacrifice an upgrade in carpet or other things they want.

On the other hand, he said, if it really is a safety issue and they can show that, then it's something people will understand. "If it's a requirement and they show the physics that it saves lives, then people will look at it and say 'Yeah maybe its important I do that,'" he said.

Maryland State Fire Marshal Bill Barnard agrees the issue of safety trumps the cost.

Barnard said has seen the enormous benefits of sprinklers firsthand in Prince George's County, where a similar ordinance has been in operation for more than a decade.

Barnard said property damage has dropped dramatically and no fire fatalities have been recorded in homes equipped with sprinklers in that county.

Another benefit may be that sprinklers also protect the lives of firefighters, Barnard said.

Both O'Neil and Barnard worked on the ordinance and two representatives of the fire marshal's office will attend the town meeting to give testimony and to help answer any questions, Barnard said.

The sprinklers' cost varies -- they average between $1.50 and $2.50 per square foot, he said.

But the true value is that a sprinkler system is not just a warning system, like a smoke detector; it is a fire protection system.

Each sprinkler can be adjusted to respond to a different temperature and will react independently of the other sprinklers in a home. If there is fire in a kitchen, only the kitchen sprinklers go on, Barnard said.

The sprinklers then put out the fire or suppress it long enough for help to arrive or for people to leave the building.

Barnard also pointed out that there is increasing evidence smoke detectors, while extremely helpful, have shown lesser benefits for the elderly and children who have limited mobility.

They often do not realize what the alarm means or what to do about it.

And that, O'Neil said, is the point of the ordinance ­ saving lives.

"I think this is a thing that will do a lot of good. I only wish it had happened before I came there," he said.

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