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Washington County commissioners opt out of home sprinkler requirement

September 25, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION and ANDREW SCHOTZ | davem@herald-mail.com and andrews@herald-mail.com

After hearing concerns from two people in the county’s building industry about a possible regulation requiring homes to have fire sprinkler systems, the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday night to opt out of a state requirement that requires the sprinklers in homes.

The commissioners, who also voiced concerns of their own about the requirement, voted unanimously to opt out of the regulations during a meeting at the Maugansville Ruritan Building.

The commissioners held a public hearing earlier in the day, but took no action.

Every three years, the state updates the Maryland Building Performance Standards. Counties then have six months to adopt the code as it is or amend it.

The county commissioners adopted the 2012 Maryland Building Performance Standards in June.

On Tuesday, they were considering an amendment to postpone a requirement that one- and two-family homes have residential fire sprinkler systems.

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The amendment would let the county opt out of the requirement until the state passes the next set of building standards in 2015.

Before the commissioners voted, Carl Vogel, president of the Home Builders Association of Washington County, voiced concerns about sprinkler requirements.

Vogel said he has seen problems with water sprinkler systems and would like to see a system developed that is not water-based.

Local contractor Wes Churchey said he has seen water sprinkler systems rupture.

“It really should be the citizens’ choice,” Churchey said.

Commissioner William B. McKinley said he thinks about his family members when it comes to fire safety but he also believes in personal choice.

Commissioner John F. Barr also thought about the safety of his grandchildren but sympathized with people who do not like “government in your face.”

“I hate government regulation,” Commissioner Jeff Cline said.

Ed Landon, director of the Maryland Codes Administration, said Tuesday that the state fire marshal’s office pushed for a change to prohibit counties from amending the building code if it would weaken “life safety codes,” which the office later specified as sprinkler systems.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill this year prohibiting a local jurisdiction from adopting an amendment weakening the sprinkler requirements for town houses and one- and two-family homes.

Landon said there was confusion about the new law and he was asked to clarify.

At the end of June, local jurisdictions were told they could remove the residential sprinkler requirements for one- and two-family homes in the latest state building performance standards if they adopted an amendment by Oct. 1, according to a Washington County memo on the issue.

Modular homes are not affected, Landon said; they must have sprinklers.

During Tuesday’s public hearing, four fire safety officials urged the commissioners not to back away from the new requirements, arguing that sprinklers and smoke detectors save residents’ and firefighters’ lives.

Larry Iseminger, a chief fire protection engineer for the state fire marshal’s office, distributed a chart showing that deaths by fire in the U.S. and in Maryland have dropped sharply from 1975 to 2010.

Iseminger said he’s conservative and doesn’t like government mandates, but sprinklers are a safety issue.

After the public hearing, Terry L. Baker, the president of the commissioners, asked how his colleagues wanted to proceed. No one made a motion.

Barr said he wanted to wait until the commissioners’ evening session to think more about the issue.

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