Wisconsin is the latest state to formalize its support for home fire sprinklers via the resurrection of its own state sprinkler coalition. NFPA recently spoke with Gregg Cleveland, chair of the Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition and fire chief of the City of La Crosse Fire Department, about reenergizing his state's sprinkler advocates and turning sprinkler opponents to sprinkler supporters.
Give a bit of history on the Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition.
The coalition was originally formed in 2009. The biggest issue we had, though, was struggling to get things moving. When you have fire inspectors, fire chiefs, and sprinkler advocates working on their own, holding down a full-time job, [the coalition] was something we couldn’t sustain. We didn’t have the support NFPA is now providing through its Fire Sprinkler Initiative. To me, that was the building block that we needed to get this thing moving and place it on a solid foundation so it is sustainable.
Has the coalition's mission changed?
The original coalition was focused on education, and that's what the mission is today. We’re not in a position yet to advocate for [sprinkler] legislation, simply because there’s simply too much education that needs to be done at the local level. We have some huge hurdles to overcome here. Right now, you can’t legislate residential sprinklers in Wisconsin. In order for that to eventually change, there needs to be a solid understanding of what residential sprinklers are.
Who has joined the coalition, and who would you like to see at the table?
The Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association and the Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association have signed on. I’d like to see every fire service organization sign on as well as the Wisconsin Builders Association. Typically there’s been a lot of resistance here to engage them because lots of times, the fire service views the issue of residential sprinklers and the builders as a winner take all – sprinklers versus no sprinklers. That’s not the world we live in today. We need to engage them, listen to them, and hear what their concerns are. Going back to the mission of the coalition, we need to educate them. I think there’s a lot of architects and engineers who don’t understand the value of sprinklers.
Outside of inviting the builders group to meetings, how else do you plan to engage them?
Our number-one priority is to communicate, not only to bring them to the table, but give them incentives for attending our events and sprinkler summits. If they attend our summit, maybe they can get continuing education units. That's one tactic. The long-term goal of the coalition is to be able to sit down and have some real dialogue on sprinklers to understand why it is the builders oppose them so much, then take that information, think about it, and make changes.
What's another group that could benefit from increased education?
Water purveyors. Why do they surcharge sprinkler systems? They do it because the decision is based on flawed data, flawed beliefs that sprinkler systems need all of this water. Why are you penalizing people who are taking financial responsibility for their own fire protection and giving incentives to those that don’t? That’s one of the major issues that needs to be addressed. We should be charging water standby fees for those properties without residential sprinklers. This is a revenue issue.
Why is now the right time to reinvigorate the coalition?
We now have the support of NFPA and the National Fire Sprinkler Association. Also, we can’t solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday's answers. We have a legislature that is predominantly anti-sprinkler. Sprinklers aren't typically supported by pro-business politicians. If we don’t do something different, why expect a different outcome? The timing is right to really make a focused attempt at educating and bringing people up to speed on why sprinklers in general are so good.
For more information on the Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Coalition, contact Gregg Cleveland.