On March 28, 2008, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) office delivered a potentially fatal blow to opponents of residential fire sprinkler requirements. For those not familiar with the USFA, it is an entity of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In other words, this is the highest government agency in the United States focused on reducing life and economic losses due to fire.
The USFA released a five minute video presentation where US Fire Administrator, Gregory Cade, presented USFA’s official position on residential fire sprinklers and the reasoning behind this historic decision. Press the play button below to watch this video.
(If you are unable to view the video, you can read the .pdf version here USFA Official Position Document)
Updated September 21, 2008
The proposed code changes to the International Residential Code have been approved.
So what impact does this have on residential fire sprinkler requirements? Well, immediately it has little significant impact since the USFA does not directly control the building and fire codes. But, the USFA is a highly visible federal entity that works through research, data gathering and public education to influence the building and fire codes used in the United States.
The USFA’s public support of residential fire sprinklers adds a shot of adrenaline to the movement for mandated residential fire sprinklers. Public education on the benefits of residential fire sprinklers will increase and fire service professionals will have a new wave of energy to publicly voice their support.
For many, this official position signals that it is an inevitable reality that residential fire sprinklers will be required in all new home construction in the United States. Others are patiently waiting on the sidelines to see how those opposing residential fire sprinkler requirements will react.
At the center of this intensifying debate are the proposed code changes to the International Residential Code (IRC) which, if passed, will mandate residential fire sprinklers in all new home construction. The IRC is part of the International Building Code (IBC), that is widely adopted as law throughout the United States.
The next revision of the IRC will be published in 2009 and all proposed changes must receive final approval at the September 2008 hearing to be included in this next revision.
A special coalition has been formed with a primary mission to get the votes necessary to pass code changes to the IRC that will require residential fire sprinklers with a zero square foot tolerance. This IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition is formed as a non-profit organization and provides the many supporters of home fire sprinkler requirements an opportunity to support their voting government officials to ensure these code changes are approved.
Support includes both encouraging voting government officials to vote “yes” on the codes changes and fundraising to cover travel expenses that will be incurred for voting government officials to be present at the September hearing.
The primary opposition has been the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), which views residential fire sprinkler requirements as unnecessary and too expensive for the benefits they provide; their argument that smoke alarms are sufficient for home fire safety has been countered with firm opposition from the fire prevention and fire fighting communities.
You can bet that with the USFA’s official position now made public, the debate of residential fire sprinklers will continue to heat up leading to the September 2008 hearings.