States’ debates on the IRC residential sprinkler mandate are becoming bizarre - really bizarre.



Since writing last month’s column regarding the adoption of the 2009 International Residential Code, the politics have reached a level of absurdity. The reasons: Homebuilders have decided to expand their debate into many more states.

Of course, when you get politicians involved in a single code-issue discussion, the comments get really bizarre. Some think that certain politicians are minions of the homebuilders, spewing off all of their rhetoric without thinking about what they are saying. They simply assume that these politicians are gullible.

A Gullible Public?

I couldn’t disagree more. These politicians are not gullible, they think the public is gullible. So they take the campaign contributions from the homebuilders and release the justification for opposing residential sprinklers, assuming that the public is gullible. But is the public gullible?

The public is getting well educated on the issue of residential sprinklers. The National Fire Protection Association has been doing a blitz, as has the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition. Also very involved in educating the public is ASPE. They created a special Web site (http://plumbingsafety.wordpress.com) with information regarding residential sprinklers.

The problem for the politicians is that the public is speaking back. Politicians don’t like that. They prefer that the public stay gullible.

Recently, I received a letter from three state legislators in the State of Washington. They were Representatives Jan Angel (26th District), Judy Warnick (13th District), and Shelly Short (7th District). They were professing why residential sprinklers should never be mandated for one- and two-family dwellings.

They provided a list of reasons - many of which dovetailed the homebuilders’ rhetoric. However, one reason was truly unique to these particular legislators. Their final reason stated, and I quote, “Many individuals choose to build their own homes, instead of buying a home from a developer, as a cost-savings. In a free country, we feel individuals should be able to choose to not include a fire sprinkler in the homes they build for themselves.”

I laughed at this reason. Reading it, my first thought was, “Why have a code at all for people who want to build their own home?” Heck, let them build anything they want. If their house falls down on them, too bad. They saved money by building it themselves. Why do we need a code?

For that matter, let all of the family members burn up in a fire. After all, they built their own home, so they should have a right to die in a fire. It is their free choice.

Now wait, is that what these three politicians really said? In essence, yes. They just decided to spin it a different way to make it sound politically correct. So, in reality, they said, “Every person has a right to build their own home that is a fire trap. They have a right to die in a fire in their own home. They also have a right to kill all of their family members in a fire in a home that they built.”

I think these three legislators would have opposed mandating airbags (or even seatbelts) for all automobiles. Don’t we need to keep cars affordable? After all, isn’t it my right as a citizen to kill myself in an automobile accident?

Southern Audacity

In Texas, the State Legislature had the audacity to add an amendment to the plumbing licensing law to prohibit any jurisdiction from adopting a code that mandates sprinklers for one- and two-family dwellings. Now, what does this amendment have to do with plumbing licensing?

As it turns out, the original bill to prohibit the adoption of a code that mandates residential sprinklers failed. So, being both desperate and beholden to the homebuilders, State Representative John Otto proposed the amendment.

The amendment was approved by both the State Legislature and the State Senate. The fire service and certain cities tried to lobby Governor Perry as a last ditch effort to have him veto the bill.

The Waco Herald-Tribune reported that Homepac contributed $20,000 to the Governor’s campaign fund. During the same period of time, Fire Fighters PAC contributed $2,000. They also reported, “Bob Perry, CEO of Perry Homes (and no relation to the governor), contributed $25,000 over those months.”

On June 19, 2009, Governor Perry signed the bill. Once again, money talks. As Will Rogers said, “We have the best congress money can buy.” I guess that also applies to state government.

Getting back to the question of whether the public is gullible, I don’t think they are at all. They are really starting to get annoyed with their politicians who sell their souls. There needs to be a grass roots uprising to oppose these ridiculous, self-serving bans on the adoption of the IRC, which mandates residential sprinklers.

People living in high-rise apartments, low-rise apartments, and condominiums are safer than people who live in single-family dwellings. Why? Because those building are all required to be sprinklered. Furthermore, the multi-family housing builders have embraced and endorsed the installation of residential sprinkler systems.

Perhaps the intelligence of the multi-family builders will eventually rub off on single-family homebuilders. After all, the multi-family housing builders build lower cost housing than homebuilders, and their buildings are all sprinklered. Somehow, they figured out how economical sprinklers are to install.

In 2001, we passed numerous laws that have cost the country billions of dollars. This was done because approximately 3,000 innocent people lost their lives on September 11. Since September 11, approximately 3,000 innocent people each year continue to lose their lives in residential fires. I guess, in some of these state legislators’ minds, these 3,000 innocent people dying each year are not as important as the 3,000 people that died on September 11.

I disagree! Those lives are equally important. It is about time that state legislators learn that fact.

Finally, Governor Perry, you should be ashamed of yourself. As for Representative Otto, I hope you collect enough campaign contributions to account for every fire death in single-family dwellings in the State of Texas.