County recommends new homes include fire safety systems

Proposal would require large tanks or sprinklers

January 30, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to send to public hearing a proposed ordinance that would require new residential developments of four or more houses to provide water systems for fire protection - either by installing 30,000-gallon underground tanks or automatic sprinkler systems in the homes.

The changes in the county code were recommended in a presentation yesterday by Scott Campbell, the county fire protection engineer and assistant administrator of the Office of Public Safety.

"This has been of concern to the fire service, not for years, but for decades," Campbell told the three commissioners. "Every year, we push to do something about one- and two-family residential subdivisions."

Campbell served as chairman of the Regional Fire Protection Committee, which was created by the commissioners and included developers, business people, firefighters, county staff members and residents. The committee has been meeting since April to review the county code's chapter on fire protection.

The committee agreed to recommend the installation of 30,000-gallon underground tanks no more than two miles from new developments to meet a requirement that the tanks be able to deliver 1,000 gallons a minute to a fire, Campbell said. The fiberglass tanks should last at least 30 years and require little maintenance, he said.

The tanks cost $60,000 to install, he said. Given the cost, he said, home sprinkler systems would be another option.

A sprinkler system in a new home would cost about $2,000, said Steven K. Broyles, who leads his Finksburg engineering company and served on the committee. "And it would alert everyone to get out," he said.

"The last thing a developer wants is to add more cost to a home," Broyles said. But once the decision to improve firefighters' access to water was made, he said, the committee was determined to find a solution.

The math seemed simple to Dan Hoff, a small developer with the Samuel C. Hoff Agency in Westminster, who was not a committee member. Although a sprinkler system would add to the cost of a home, he predicted that it would be a selling point for buyers.

"From a psychological standpoint, you would not pay more for a house with a tank nearby versus a house with a sprinkler system inside," Hoff said.

Under the proposed changes in the code, the new underground tanks would be turned over to the county for maintenance, and the volunteer fire departments would be responsible for replacing the water.

As for a countywide sprinkler requirement for all residences, Campbell said, "The county would be wise to look into it."

More than 70 percent of fire deaths occur in one- and two-family homes, he said.

Pointing out that several other counties and towns have implemented such a requirement, he said, "It's not a fad. It's the real deal at this point. We need to at least investigate the feasibility of a countywide sprinkler ordinance."

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