Removing fire sprinkler code from IRC would be a failure
Not up for debate when it comes to residential sprinklers.
I had an OMG moment a few days ago followed by a “you’ve got to be kidding me” one.
With the ICC public hearings approaching this month, one of the ICC chapters is campaigning for the one and only code change they have ever submitted. The chapter is the ICC Gulf Coast Region IX, which includes the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The chapter’s proposed code change is to remove the residential sprinkler requirements from the International Residential Code.
What you have to understand is this ICC chapter is made up of building and code officials. They are publicly rallying support to remove an important life-safety requirement from the IRC. Does that make sense? Aren’t building officials and code officials supposed to save lives?
What is especially disturbing about this anti-residential sprinkler campaign piece is it is printed on the chapter’s letterhead, which includes the ICC logo. Hence, it looks as if the ICC is opposed to residential sprinklers in the IRC. This is only part of the poor judgement exercised by the Region IX chapter.
The campaign piece then goes on to make, in my opinion, some preposterous statements. It claims data shows smoke alarms are the most effective fire protection requirement in the IRC. I wondered whose data makes such a conclusion. Of course, the data wasn’t identified.
It also states since the time that smoke alarms have been required in dwellings there has been a significant drop in the number of reported fires, injuries and fatalities. This is a statement typically heard during a federal election year. But such twisted fact statements normally are espoused by politicians running for president, not building officials charged with protecting the life safety of the citizens.
You always can play games with statistics. NFPA reported in 2014 there was one home structure fire every 86 seconds. Hence, fires still are occurring at an alarming rate. They also reported one civilian is injured in a fire every 33 minutes. The worst reported number is one fire death every 2 hours and 41 minutes. If you do the math, the number of fire deaths for the year exceeded 3,200 people.
Don’t get me wrong, smoke alarms are wonderful. They are needed throughout every dwelling unit. However, they have not saved the more than 3,000 people per year that die in fires in the United States. Smoke alarms are only one component of an overall life-safety approach to a dwelling unit. Residential fire-sprinkler systems happen to be another important life-safety component. Those 3,000 fire deaths every year could have been saved with a residential sprinkler system.
Again, following NFPA statistics, the number of fire deaths in homes equipped with a properly installed residential sprinkler system from the 1970s until present is two. That’s right, two! Furthermore, NFPA 13D was modified to prevent future fire deaths from antifreeze systems that resulted in those two deaths.
If you want to play games with numbers, since smoke alarms have been mandated, the number of fire deaths from 1976 until 2016 is about 120,000 people. In that same period of time, the number of fire deaths in dwelling units having smoke alarms and properly installed residential sprinkler systems is two.
The ICC Region IX chapter doesn’t want to use any of the fire death statistics. That makes them look bad. Imagine if a building official publicly stated it is OK to have 3,000 people a year die in a fire.
The chapter thinks the IRC should focus on more important things, probably things such as energy code requirements. They haven’t said anything about the cost of the new energy code provisions. Yet, between 2006 and today the added cost to meet the energy code requirements in a home costs more than the installation of a residential fire sprinkler system.
Saving energy vs. saving a life — I happen to believe both are important.
It is difficult to comprehend that a regional chapter of the ICC is so opposed to an important life-safety requirement that they are out campaigning against it. I think the leadership of this chapter should be ashamed of themselves.
The residential sprinkler requirement in the IRC will be discussed and voted on at the upcoming ICC Annual Conference in Kansas City, Mo. Since the Region IX chapter code change to remove residential sprinklers was recommended for denial by the code-change committee, it will take a 2/3 vote in the positive for the change to be approved.
I can’t believe the conscientious building officials and fire officials that are voting members of ICC will allow the residential sprinkler requirement to be removed from the IRC. The requirement has already gone through three code-change cycles. Let’s hope it remains for the fourth code-change cycle.
On the calendar
I need to put in a plug for the upcoming ASPE Convention and Expo set for Oct. 28-Nov. 2 at the Phoenix Convention Center. There is still time to register and attend the convention.
The ASPE convention is the finest plumbing and plumbing engineering event in North America. Since it only occurs every two years, you don’t want to miss it. The educational programs scheduled for this year’s convention are outstanding.
If you can only make it for two days, be sure to attend the show on Monday and Tuesday. One of the best parts of the show is the number of engineers from the manufacturers that show up. That is not meant to insult the sales representatives; it also is great to hear their perspective. However, sometimes you like to hear the inside nuts and bolts of a product from the engineers. I happen to love talking turkey with them.
The ASPE convention also is an opportunity to network with all your colleagues. If you have never attended an ASPE convention, Phoenix would be a great place to take in your first convention.
As you are walking through the show, stop me and say hello. I love talking with the readers. Plus, you give me great ideas for future columns in this magazine.
This article was originally titled “Not up for debate” in the October 2016 print edition of PM Engineer.