Volunteer firefighters will square off against builders next month, when a proposed ordinance requiring sprinkler systems in all new single-family homes throughout unincorporated areas of Carroll County goes to a public hearing.
The county commissioners authorized the hearing yesterday and will act on the proposal after gathering public comment. The 87 fire deaths in Maryland last year occurred in homes without sprinklers, fire officials said.
"This is no different than requiring seat belts and air bags," said Richard Green Sr., who chaired the county sprinkler committee and is an assistant chief at Gamber and Community Fire Company.
Several builders countered that fire protections are already built into new homes today, and the sprinklers can add more than $10,000 to the cost of a house.
"Fires are down in this county, and less than 2 percent of those have occurred in buildings built after 1980," said Thomas Ballentine, a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Maryland. "The commissioners need to look at local data and then adopt a policy for those most at risk."
"Since 1992, there has not been one fire death in a sprinklered residence in the state," Green said. "With congested roads and volunteers' travel time, response times are down to an average six minutes. People die in the first minutes of a fire. A sprinkler activates in 20 seconds and allows people time to get out of the house."
Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr., a longtime volunteer firefighter, said a chimney fire in a five-year-old Union Bridge home Tuesday demonstrated the need for sprinklers.
"The fire was in the walls," Jones said. "With fuel oil prices soaring, people will be using alternative fuels and we will have more and more of these fires. Building more and more homes without sprinklers is absurd."