More than 25 years ago, Long Grove, Illinois, became the first Chicagoland community with an ordinance in accordance with NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, an effort led by Fire Chief Dave Grupp. On August 21, 2000, Clarendon Hills became the fifth of what is now more than 90 towns and fire districts in Illinois to require fire sprinklers in new homes.
What's so special about this town? Upscale Clarendon Hills was the first “tear down and rebuild” community located in the inner ring of mature Chicago suburbs to consider a home fire sprinkler ordinance. Therefore, it faced considerable challenges and opposition from custom homebuilders, Realtor associations, local media, and community residents.
Fire Chief Brian Leahy, who led the sprinkler effort, had a vision to use reports and educational materials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), and NFPA. His goal was to sprinkler new houses one by one, little by little, as small houses came down and were replaced by large houses. One of the main reasons for protecting the homes was the closeness of the lot lines and height of the new houses, which would have contributed greatly to radiated and conventional fire spread between neighboring homes if fire sprinklers were not present.
Also cited by Chief Leahy was the fact that most of the new homes were as large as small office buildings, featuring third floors, steep roofs, open architecture, and lightweight construction that make them dangerous for both citizens and firefighters in fire and rescue situations.
Various opponents of the proposed ordinance presented Chief Leahy with a list of 33 initial concerns, including misleading facts, marketability of homes, cost, municipal water pressure, backflow issues, and water damage. Leahy addressed all the concerns. That list today is known as the “Clarendon Hills List of 33,” which has become a benchmark for other communities to follow.
At the request of Chief Leahy, the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NIFSAB) provided support and HFSC educational brochures. Other educational opportunities that were seized included fire sprinkler trailer demonstrations as well as fire and sprinkler burn demonstrations.
Prior to the ordinance's passage, NIFSAB proposed that the first house be a pro-bono installation to use as an educational open house where attendees could see and touch the fire sprinkler system before drywall was installed. This tempered the opposition from the first homeowner who was previously leading an anti-sprinkler charge. Questions from the public, elected officials, and visitors from neighboring towns were addressed, allowing no room for misinterpretation.
Thanks to Chief Leahy’s conviction for residential sprinklers, more than 500 Clarendon Hills homes are protected with this feature, and an average of 40 new sprinklered homes are added each year. In passing the ordinance, Clarendon Hills was a pivotal community that helped move others forward with their sprinkler efforts.
This post was written by Tom Lia, executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting legislation, raising public awareness, and educating code officials and government policymakers on home fire sprinklers. Lia regularly offers his perspective on sprinkler activities taking place in his state and elsewhere.