City warned of pitfalls of passing sprinkler requirement

May 13, 1992|By Brian Sullam | Brian Sullam,Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER — In the May 13 edition, The Carroll County Sun mistakenly reported that Westminster City Council member Rebecca Orenstein said she favored requiring new homes to be equipped with fire sprinkler systems. In fact, Orenstein said she would choose such a system "in a heartbeat" were she buying a new home for her family. She said she has not made up her mind about legislation requiring residential sprinklers. The Carroll County Sun regrets the error.

WESTMINSTER -- Even though installing sprinklers is a good way to save lives and property, city officials were told yesterday that there is no easy way to determine which buildings should be required to have them.

The Public Safety Committee of the Westminster City Council is weighing whether buildings in the city should have sprinklers, and it received a warning from a member of the Taneytown City Council.


"A word of caution: It is not as easy as it appears," said Thomas J. DeNike. "You start out with a whole bunch of good intentions about saving lives and property, but there are a whole bunch of hurdles you have to get over."

He briefly recounted the trouble Taneytown had when it passed a stringent requirement for sprinklers but failed to enforce it.

Buildings that he said should have had sprinklers -- such as the town's Pizza Hut -- did not install them. Home owners did not know whether they were supposed to install them. And builders ignored the ordinance.

Finally, due to flagrant non-compliance, the town's council recently repealed the measure.

"We are basically back to square one," said DeNike.

He added that he had come to the Westminster meeting hoping to find answers, but instead found that some of the same thorny issues that had bedeviled Taneytown were being discussed:

* Should Westminster pass an ordinance that is more restrictive than the state fire code requirements?

* Should all new buildings be required to have sprinklers?

* Should single-family dwellings have sprinklers?

* Which existing buildings should be required to install sprinklers?

* How will a sprinkler ordinance affect the Historic District legislation being contemplated?

The committee did not answer any of the questions, but members did review ordinances of other Maryland towns and discussed some of the implications of requiring sprinklers.

The benefits of sprinklers are considerable, according to the fire officials at the meeting.

Sprinklers automatically start dowsing flames at least three to five minutes before firefighters can arrive. Insurance companies also give discounts for buildings equipped with sprinklers.

For commercial buildings, the cost of a sprinkler system can be ** recovered in seven to 10 years, they said.

But there are drawbacks -- primarily cost.

The cost of retrofitting is about $100 to $125 a sprinkler head, the committee was told.

Another problem is ensuring that there is an adequate water supply for commercial businesses that are retrofitted.

The committee also tossed around the idea of whether new residential construction should be equipped with sprinklers.

"I would require them in a heartbeat," said Councilwoman Rebecca Orenstein.

Builders attending the meeting said a sprinkler system would add $2,000 to $2,500 to the cost of a new house.

DeNike said builders complained about Taneytown's requirement that they supply sprinklers in new homes.

The committee will meet again to discuss sprinkler legislation on June 9.

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