Author(s): James Shannon. Published on May 1, 2009.

A Call to Join the Sprinkler Fight

NFPA Journal®, May/June 2009

When NFPA recently announced its initiative to gain adoption of residential sprinkler requirements in new one- and two-family homes, we knew that we were beginning a tough battle that would take a massive effort by us, the fire service, and safety advocates over several years.



March - April 2009
Fire-safe cigarettes: Keeping fighting

January - February 2009
Fire safey and the future

November - December 2008
Take care this heating season

September - October 2008
Fire safety on college campuses

July - August 2008
Advancing residential sprinklers

May - June 2008
Chief Warren McDaniels

March - April 2008
The Firewise® philosophy

January - February 2008
2007 Year in Review

But we also knew that the payoff in lives saved, firefighter safety, and property protection would justify that commitment. Widespread use of residential sprinklers is essential in improving fire safety for everyone.

The adoption of residential sprinkler requirements, first by NFPA and recently by the International Code Council (ICC), will allow us to make real headway in wider adoption of residential sprinkler laws. Because of the severe economic problems we face, home building has stalled, but when the economy turns around, the pent-up demand for housing will likely lead to millions of homes being built in the coming years. If we can begin to make progress in our campaign, it will help educate the public about sprinklers’ affordability and efficacy. It will also demystify sprinkler technology, and will rebut the spurious arguments that have stood in the way of sprinkler use.

It makes sense to launch this campaign now. The United States still has one of the worst fire death rates in the industrialized world. While we have made great progress in the last generation, we still lose about 3,000 lives every year in residential fires. Our push for fire-safe cigarettes will, we believe, significantly lower those numbers, but, even after that law is fully effective, the fire death rate will leave the United States with a record nobody should be proud of.

We have shown that residential sprinklers are affordable. A study conducted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation of 10 communities that have adopted residential sprinkler ordinances places the cost at $1.61 per sprinklered square foot. In places such as Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland, home building continued to flourish after sprinkler advances were adopted.

But a new threat to this campaign has emerged. Home builders in at least 16 states have found sponsors for legislation that would prevent communities from adopting residential sprinkler requirements. These proposals would effectively preclude the adoption of the provisions approved by NFPA and the ICC. This brazen tactic is unprecedented in our history of developing safety codes, and it is essential that we do all we can to prevent this special interest from succeeding.

The fire service in particular should be concerned, because if the home builders succeed, this tactic will be used again by other interest groups to prevent advances in staffing, equipment improvements, and other resources achieved through code adoptions. NFPA is aggressively fighting these dangerous proposals. We have succeeded in knocking down efforts to block residential sprinklers in Illinois, Maine, and Ohio, but our opponents won’t quit.

As we found in other advocacy efforts, politicians pay attention when the fire service speaks about fire safety, especially when it speaks with one voice. If we expect our progress saving lives from fire to continue, it is important that all of us, especially members of the fire service, get involved in this campaign now.

Go to to learn how you can help us defeat these deadly legislative proposals. Now is the time to join the fight to save lives through residential sprinklers.