Residential Fire Sprinklers Proposal Approved at ICC Hearing

A strong majority of the International Code Council's voting members have cast their support for a residential fire sprinkler requirement for all new one- and two-family homes and townhouses. Fire service and building code officials united to approve the requirement and countered opposition Sunday at the ICC final action hearing in Minneapolis. The vote--1,282 in favor, 470 against--represented 73 percent of members in attendance approving the proposal to change the International Residential Code (IRC).

The IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition, an association of more than 100 safety, building code, and fire service organizations representing 45 states, said it assumed a leadership position and secured unified support for the proposal over the past 18 months. The code proposal, RB64, easily overcame a procedural requirement that mandated a super-majority of two-thirds approval, the coalition said.

"Our team worked hard to rally support throughout the United States for a residential fire sprinkler requirement, but our supporters deserve the recognition for showing up en masse in Minneapolis," said Coalition President Ronny J. Coleman. "They know from experience that sprinklers are the answer to the nation's fire problem."

Both the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters are members of the coalition. "Although there is still work to do, this precedent-setting vote will change the face of fire safety in America," said Chief Larry J. Grorud, IAFC president. "The fire service has won a major victory in the fight to make our citizens' homes safer."

The goal of the proposal is to make fire sprinklers as common in homes as smoke alarms. According to the coalition, fire deaths in the United States realized a dramatic decline over the past three decades as smoke alarms became common, so that today more than 95 percent of homes have them. But because more than 3,000 people still die each year from fire and a home burns every 80 seconds, the coalition contends that residential sprinklers are the only fire protection technology that works to rapidly contain fire and effectively give families more time to escape the deadly heat and poisonous gases involved.

The sprinkler mandate will first appear in the 2009 IRC, slated to be published by the end of the year. The coalition noted that 46 states use the IRC as the basis of regulating new home construction.

"The vote was a historic moment in residential fire safety--and is a significant step in a long journey before sprinklers are installed in every new home," Coleman said. "We're now going to move forward at the state and local level to ensure new code requirement is adopted."

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