Illinois home fire sprinkler initiatives under way

Two-pronged effort in the state aims to increase residential fire sprinkler requirements
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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ORLAND PARK, Ill.—Whether it’s through a town-by-town adoption of new residential fire sprinkler requirements or via a new effort to require sprinklers in homes statewide, Illinois is making progress toward mandating the life safety devices in more and more homes, according to Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB).

In June, Lia said, the village of Gurnee, Ill., joined a growing number of communities in the state that have adopted residential fire sprinkler requirements.

Gurnee was the fourth municipality to approve such a requirement this year and now numbers among 78 municipalities and fire protection districts in Illinois requiring residential fire sprinklers in new one- and two-family homes, according to the NIFSAB.

“We’re hoping to keep the momentum up,” Lia recently told Security Systems News.

But he said a new initiative by state Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis to update state standards could mean that residential fire sprinklers could be required in municipalities and fire districts statewide—even in Chicago, which Lia said lacks a residential sprinkler requirement—and the community-by-community effort would no longer be needed.

“He’s making a big push to pass the Life Safety Code [NFPA] 101, the 2012 edition … he wants to pass that this year,” Lia said.

The state already has an older version of the code in place but if the state updates to the 2012 edition, that new version requires fire sprinklers in one- and two-family homes, townhouses, nightclubs and other venues with a lot of occupants, and older high-rise buildings, according to the NIFSAB.

“It's a standard and not a statewide code, but if they pass it, it would in effect become the statewide code,” Lia told SSN.

In that case, he said, “individual towns wouldn’t have to go ahead and pass a law.”

It can be a battle to get those local ordinances approved, Lia said.

For example, he said, even though the Gurnee residential fire sprinkler requirement was proposed by the village’s fire chief, “we had major opposition from the homebuilders group and a real estate association group.” Homebuilders don’t like governmental regulations, he said, and oppose sprinklers as an added cost for a new home.

But the NIFSAB and other pro-sprinkler groups say the devices—whose average cost nationally is $1.61 per square foot—are essential because they save lives by quickly putting out fires before they can do much damage or kill. In 2010, the groups note, 85 percent of all fire deaths occurred in homes.

“The initial vote [in Gurnee] was 5-1 against but it got turned around with a lot of help from the National Fire Protection Association [which has a Fire Sprinkler Initiative, http://www.firesprinklerinitiative.org/],” Lia said. “They intervened by writing letters to the trustees and the mayor, and we brought out the fire sprinkler demonstration trailer before a board meeting and that actually helped turn the vote around.”

He also credited the National Fire Sprinkler Association and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition with helping to convince village officials about the need for fire sprinklers.

Finally, village officials voted 4-2 on June 18 to approve “a residential fire sprinkler ordinance by adopting the 2012 International Residential Code, which will require fire sprinkler systems in all new one- and two-family homes and townhomes effective immediately,” according to the NIFSAB.

Lia expects that Matkaitis will bring his proposal about adopting the 2012 edition of NFPA 101 to a legislative committee this fall.