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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Laws: Residential dwellings required to have fire sprinklers installed.

#Video #OCFA - Marble Mountain Side By Side Demonstration

New In-Home Fire Sprinkler Rule Comes to Elk Grove Fire officials say regulation will boost safety despite cost concerns

By Karen Wilkinson
When firefighters responded to a garage fire caused by a deep fryer in Galt earlier this month, sprinklers had doused the flames, no one was hurt and there was minimal damage.

While such scenes aren't always typical, according to Cosumnes Fire Department officials, they may soon become more common due to new fire sprinkler regulations taking effect Jan. 1.

Starting next year, all new residential dwellings in Elk Grove and the state of California will be required to have fire sprinklers installed. Attached buildings like garages are also included in the new rules, which affect single-family and two-family houses and townhouses.

California is the third state to adopt the code, which has sparked controversy because it imposes increased costs on builders and homeowners at a time when the construction industry is already hurting.

The National Association of Home Builders in a policy statement opposes mandatory sprinklers, citing their "high cost and unsubstantiated need," and developer lobbying has helped stall passage of similar requirements in other states.

But local firefighters and building officials said the new policy's safety benefits far outweigh its potential costs.

"Sprinklers are like living with a firefighter 24/7," said Cosumnes Fire Department marshal George Apple. "It doesn't eliminate the need for us, but sprinklers allow people to get out safely."

Apple said the average fire survival rate is 80 percent when a home uses a combination of fire sprinklers and smoke detectors, compared with 50 percent for smoke detectors alone. Sprinklers keep temperatures from rising as much as they would without the safety measure, and keep smoke levels down, Apple said -- differences that can be a matter of life and death. 

While Hollywood movies often show sprinklers activating en masse and flooding homes and businesses, in most cases, only those nearest the flames will go off, Apple said. Unlike smoke detectors, the sprinklers are not susceptible to false alarms, he said.

A Youtube video created by the Orange County Fire Department simulates the effects of a fire in two identical apartments -- one with sprinklers, one without. The room without sprinklers is engulfed in flames and destroyed, while in the other, sprinkles extinguish the fire within minutes, with minimal damage.

Though the Elk Grove City Council heard no official opposition when it formally adopted the state code in October, chief building official Rick Renfro said the rule will likely increase costs for plumbers, who will have to obtain a special license from the state to install home fire sprinklers, on top of their plumber's license.

Renfro said he anticipates a last-minute rush of single-family dwelling permit applications before Dec. 31 -- the deadline to apply and build under 2010 codes.

"It's hard because there are dollars tied to it, but it's pretty much going to take care of 90 to 95 percent of fires if installed properly," Renfro said. "The builders have accepted the fact that it's reality and not going to change." 

Apple said the cost to install the sprinklers -- roughly $1.50 per square foot, or $3,000 for a 2,000 square-foot home -- can seem pricey, but will be balanced by savings in homeowners' insurance and damages.

Two years ago, around Christmas-time in Wilton, an unattended candle burned through the plastic table it had been sitting on, Apple said. The homeowner had a live tree, with gifts beneath and other holiday decorations in the room. She also had fire sprinklers, which activated and left the holiday d├ęcor undamaged.

"Without sprinklers, the house would have been a complete loss," Apple said.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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