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Sprinkler Hearing Engulfs Redistricting Debate

A public hearing was held for a proposed bill that would not require one- and two-family homes to have sprinkler systems.

Bob Schott stood outside of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company house and watched a flame climb up a wastebasket full of newspaper and spread to a hanging white curtain.

One minute 11 seconds later a smoke alarm sounded inside the glass-paneled trailer. Seconds later the overhead sprinklers turned on and doused the flames.

Schott, a field marshal with the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, set the fire as part of a demonstration for the Harford County Council prior to a hearing on a bill that would end a requirement that newly built homes have the systems installed.

As the year-old law stands now, all newly built single-family homes and duplexes built in the county after Jan. 1, 2012, would be required to have the fire suppression systems, according to Harford County legislative liaison Nancy Giorno.

County Executive David Craig, a Republican, is proposing that those requirements be ended. Homebuilders say they support the proposed change to the law because the sprinklers are too costly for homebuyers in an already depressed housing market.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal Office, various county volunteer fire companies and the Department of Fire Protection Engineering support the current law.

“I understand the economic side of all of this,” said Schott. “But, what’s a life worth?” 

Inside of a chamber installed with overhead sprinklers, council members listened to firefighters oppose the bill and homebuilders support the bill during the hearing.

“The way homes are built and furnished now, they are petroleum based and burn with extreme rapidity,” said W. Faron Taylor, a retired Maryland state fire marshal in an interview before the hearing. “When there is a fire, there should not just be a smoke alarm to tell us what’s going on, but something to attack the problem.”

Dan Whitehurst of Clark Turner Development said the housing market has declined in Harford County. Sprinkler systems cost $1.40 per square-foot to install but add no value to the home, he said.

“The people who have bought homes from Ryland Homes have chosen not to put sprinklers in,” said Whitehurst.

Tim Hopkins, a real estate broker, said new home construction lags behind the jobs boom at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

“We come here to speak for future home buyers. They aren’t going to know about these fees until they are building that home,” said Hopkins. “Let’s let people make the decision.” 

Richard Green, the Maryland State Firemen's Association residential fire sprinkler committee chairman, said the association supports requiring sprinklers in homes. The regulations protect the lives of not just tenants but firefighters, he said.

"When you call 911, you invite the government into your home," said Green.

The public hearing for the sprinkler bill completely overshadowed redrawing the county’s six council districts.

County Council member Mary Ann Lisanti stated that District F, which gained precinct 1-13 Abindon and lost 1-10 Abingdon and 6-05 Aberdeen, is “a very gerrymandered area.” She said the Harford County Board of Elections should look at the balance of districts to avoid political advantages in future elections.

Ultimately, no members of the public testified on the plan. The council unanimously passed it.

Linda Stine Flint December 06, 2011 at 03:16 PM
and what about the added cost to the water bill...you will be required to pay double/triple the cost of your monthly water bill to add these in and maintain...and who is the responsible one for the water damage when they go off mistakenly. so that means higher insurance costs too. the govt should not be interfering
Bob December 06, 2011 at 03:47 PM
You only pay for the water they consume, so if they consume none, consider yourself blessed. I have them, content that I have them. I probably would not have opted to have them installed if given the choice. Were they worth it? I hope I never have to find out. Potential lives of fireman, pets and residents saved. Less damage = less cost to repair. And yes, insurance credits for having them
Fred Cullum December 06, 2011 at 03:57 PM
OK, where did you get information that your water bill would increase? Sprinkler systems have been in use for over 100 years and they do not go off mistakenly. When a fire occurs only the sprinkler head or heads that are close enough to the fire to receive enough heat to activate them will activate. The amount of water damage is for less from a sprinkler head flowing approximately 25 gallons of water per minute compared to a fire hose flowing approximately 125 gallons per minute under higher pressure and not as confined and localized as a fixed sprinkler head. So much misunderstanding and misinformation being put forth on this life and property saving topic.
Dave in BR December 06, 2011 at 07:22 PM
I think there is a perception that a sprinkler system requires a larger meter and, therefore, a higher base water fee every billing period. Not true! Also, not really a big issue around here, but I've read studies showing the total amount of water that is required to put out a fire is significantly less when sprinklers are involved compared to those using fire departments only. Again, not a big issue for the area since this isn't an arid climate.
Karl Schuub January 17, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Just for the record...it is a fallacy to say these systems don't leak. Where you have water you can have leaks and with a sprinkler system in particular it can create a massive amount of damage. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-water-damage-20120116,0,923302.story "Cook said that a 3-inch pipe connected to the building's sprinkler system rusted out and opened. The problem was discovered about 1:30 p.m. Monday. "Most of the damage was just ceiling tiles dropped and the floor is wet," Cook said. He said a restoration company was examining the site Monday evening." "We had water coming out of light fixtures," the veteran Democrat said. Kelley said she injured herself trying to move computers and other equipment out of the way. When the order came to evacuate, there wasn't time to lock up, she said. "We had to leave everything wide open — that upset me. You feel kind of vulnerable," Kelley said. Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat from Howard County, said his first-floor office was spared, but he saw the leak. "It was like a waterfall coming down the elevator shaft," he said. He noted that his socks were wet from walking around the building.

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