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County won't require fire sprinkler systems in new homes

Most commissioners favor leaving decision up to homeowners

August 10, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

The Washington County Commissioners decided Tuesday not to require fire sprinkler systems in new single-family or two-family homes as part of a building code update.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to adopt the updated versions of several building-related codes with a local amendment removing those sprinkler requirements, which are new in the 2009 edition of the International Residential Code.

As adopted, the codes require fire sprinklers only in apartments, townhomes and commercial buildings. The updated codes take effect Sept. 1.

Local fire officials have encouraged the commissioners to adopt the sprinkler requirement for new one- and two-family homes, while local builders have opposed the requirement due to the added cost.

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Several of the commissioners said Tuesday they would like to see homeowners better educated about the benefits of sprinklers but thought the decision should be left up to the homeowner.

"It's not a matter of whether sprinklers are a good thing to put in homes," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said. "I recommend they put them in, but I believe it's their choice."

The commissioners previously were unsure whether they had the authority to omit that requirement locally, but a July 22 letter from the Maryland Attorney General's office confirmed the county was free to strengthen, lessen or delete the sprinkler requirements.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire, who voted no, wanted to have a committee develop a proposal that would require the sprinkler systems under specific circumstances, such as in homes where water supply or location would make it harder for firefighters to respond.

Kercheval said he wouldn't be opposed to, down the road, looking into additional fire safety requirements for such hard-to-reach areas, but said that was "a discussion for another day."

Commissioner William J. Wivell was against such requirements.

"I think that's the person's individual right, and if they choose to build up on the side of a mountain somewhere, they take that risk," he said.

Commissioner Terry Baker said he would like to see buyers of new homes provided with a short summary of the pros and cons of residential sprinkler systems. Commissioners President John F. Barr suggested airing on television a video that was shown to the commissioners showing the difference a sprinkler system made in putting out a Christmas tree fire in a test setting.

In the nonsprinkler test in the video, the room is filled with thick smoke within 45 seconds and the fire quickly consumes the room. In the sprinkler setting, the sprinkler puts the fire out in about two minutes.

Washington County Permits and Inspections Director Daniel F. Divito said his department would start distributing information about sprinkler systems to building permit applicants, and he said he would look into public service announcements.

Divito also said he would have a citizens advisory committee discuss suggestions for other educational efforts.

How they voted

John F. Barr - yes

Terry Baker - yes

Kristin B. Aleshire - no

James F. Kercheval - yes

William J. Wivell - yes

o County to seek state input before deciding on sprinkler systems

o Sprinkler systems divide fire officials, builders

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