Advancing Residential Sprinklers
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2008
Over the past decade, NFPA and the International Code Council (ICC) have been criticized for not cooperating enough in advancing our common mission to promote safety. While the two organizations have had their differences, we at NFPA believe that NFPA and the ICC should work together, wherever possible, to make buildings safer, because when we cooperate, we are a powerful force for change. Leaders of both organizations have, in the past, expressed the hope that we could, in the future, find more areas for cooperation. The perfect opportunity for NFPA and ICC to work together is now at hand.
Three years ago, the NFPA Standards Council issued the 2006 editions of NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code®; NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; and NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®. Each code requires automatic residential fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family dwellings.
Since then, more U.S. communities have passed ordinances requiring sprinklers in dwellings. About 400 communities now require sprinklers in newly constructed housing. We expect this trend to continue, and NFPA is committed to working with state and local governments to secure the passage of residential sprinkler laws. Since most deaths and roughly half of all injuries and property loss from fire occur in one- and two-family dwellings, the use of residential sprinklers can have a tremendous effect over time.
While the NFPA codes were the first model codes to include this requirement, the change did not come easily. Proposals requiring residential sprinklers made in several code cycles did not make it through the process. Achieving consensus took years, but agreement was finally reached in the 2006 cycle, and the residential sprinkler requirement was included in our codes.
The ICC is now considering a proposal for the 2009 International Residential Code that will require sprinklers in all new dwellings. At the ICC meeting last fall, a majority of ICC members supported the requirement, but it failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote. But the proponents have not given up and the provision will be considered again this September. NFPA and many other fire-safety advocates will be there to support its passage.
If NFPA and the ICC can both get squarely behind residential sprinklers, it will create unstoppable momentum for the adoption of residential sprinkler requirements across the United States. With those adoptions, it will not be long before we start to see measurable improvements in the fire loss record as new construction brings this technology to more people.
This is an historic opportunity for NFPA and the ICC to work together to make homes safer for the next generation of Americans. We know that powerful groups oppose the installation of sprinklers in homes. But with the passage of time, many of the arguments they make carry less weight, and the obstacles against residential sprinklers will be overcome. We are at a key moment in the push for residential sprinklers. Favorable action by the ICC on the heels of NFPA’s approval of residential sprinklers in our codes could propel our campaign, and that is why we will be at the ICC meeting to help make the case.
Whatever the outcome of the hearings, NFPA will continue the fight. But we can think of no more important work that NFPA and the ICC could do together than lead the way to the adoption of residential sprinkler requirements for all new homes in the United States. We are eager to work with the ICC to make this happen.