In 2014, fire officials from 29 towns and fire districts in Will County, Illinois, gathered to discuss common code enforcement issues at a meeting with county board members. It was immediately apparent that certain board members had an anti-fire-sprinkler agenda.
While the meeting began with home fire sprinklers as a consideration in the county building code, county board members quickly decided to amend out the fire sprinkler requirement for new homes found in national model building codes. While there had been cooperation between the county and local fire departments/districts regarding fire sprinklers in commercial businesses, this mutual support for fire sprinklers in single-family homes wasn’t there. Fortunately, Will County has the benefit of a court ruling that allows fire districts to pass ordinances in unincorporated areas that they serve within the county.
One county board member publicly stated that he did not want any county code enforced for three years. The Manhattan Fire Protection District and Fire Chief Dan Forsythe used that statement as motivation to continue enforcing their own home fire sprinkler ordinance enacted in 2012. "Some jurisdictions may choose not to require fire sprinklers at all, while others only require fire sprinklers in homes over a certain, large-square footage,” says Chief Forsythe. “My duty as a fire chief is to protect the residents in my district the best way possible. My staff and I knew it was important to protect all new homes in unincorporated areas of Manhattan, regardless of size."
Others also understood the importance of this protection, and took action. Fire Inspector Dennis Randolph of the New Lenox Fire Protection District chose to build a new home in an unincorporated area served by the Manhattan Fire Protection District. Dennis and his wife, Melinda, used their home as an educational tool to explain to Will County officials the importance of fire sprinklers in eliminating fire deaths and injuries. In May, they hosted an open house with Rigsby Builders, the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, and the Manhattan Fire Protection District. Officials toured the home, guided by Engineer Bill Sutterlin of Advanced Fire Protection, and viewed the fire sprinklers before drywall was installed. Following the walk-through, a burn demonstration was held in a sprinkler demonstration trailer.
Randolph’s home and public display proves that fire sprinklers are not detrimental to homebuilders or the growth of a community. Furthermore, the sprinklers in his home were made possible by Chief Forsythe’s perfect pitch for a sprinkler ordinance and the ability to showcase accurate sprinkler information to the public. These actions will lead to increased fire safety and burn prevention.
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.