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City likely to require sprinkler systems in new homes

September 14, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

It is likely that the Hagerstown City Council soon will require sprinkler systems in all new single-family and two-family homes.

The state of Maryland has adopted the 2009 International Residential Code, which introduces a controversial requirement for fire sprinkler systems in all new single-family homes. Fire officials have supported the requirement, citing sprinklers' lifesaving potential, while many local builders have argued the costly systems should be a personal choice.

Discussion during Tuesday's work session separated council members on whether to include a mandate for sprinklers in the locally adopted code.

Council members Ashley C. Haywood and Forrest Easton opposed the requirement while Councilmen William Breichner, Martin Brubaker and Lewis C. Metzner favored the idea.

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The council will vote Sept. 28 on adopting the updated code with the sprinkler system included.

Council members asked city staff in August to research insurance savings, installation cost and the opinions of local builders of sprinkler systems.

Insurance companies in general offer savings of 5 to 10 percent on annual premiums if a home is equipped with a residential sprinkler system, said John Lestitian, director of community and economic development.

Depending on the home, systems can range from $2,200 to $5,500, he said.

Local builders felt it was just a matter of time before sprinkler systems would be required throughout the state, and they were concerned about Hagerstown requiring the systems now when the economy is low, Lestitian said.

"I can't support it," Easton said. "If it is going to be mandated by the state in 3 to 5 years, then I think wait."

It is not the city's job to mandate what people put in their homes, Easton said.

Brubaker, who favored the requirement, said city building codes mandate other health and safety requirements, such as firewalls between adjoining town houses.

Haywood said she would rather see the city regulate standards for building materials than sprinkler systems.

"If we are talking about consumer protection, that (material standards) is a bigger issue in my mind," she said.

Haywood said putting sprinkler systems in homes made of substandard materials would not ultimately protect a consumer's investment.

A sprinkler requirement could drive developers out of the city and into Washington County, which voted not to include sprinkler systems in its updated code, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

Metzner said he did not buy the argument that the expense of a sprinkler system was prohibitive.

Brubaker agreed, saying that because all new city homes would be serviced by public water, he did not think the cost of a sprinkler system would be on the high end, and therefore also would not stop consumers from buying a sprinkler-equipped home.

Safety outweighed economy for Brubaker, he said.

Sprinklers effectively dampen fires, often allowing occupants time to exit a burning home, he said. The ability to suppress a fire long enough for people to reach safety is what is important, he said.

Breichner noted that it takes firefighters longer to reach homes on the edge of the city. Those homes, he said, have greater need for a sprinkler system.

City staff recommended approving the requirement, Lestitian said.

Staff writer Heather Keels contributed to this story.

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