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Date of Issue: November 15, 2007

Fire district taps into residential sprinkler concept

West Manatee Fire Rescue officials have joined a countywide effort to draft an ordinance promoting sprinklers in new single-family homes and duplexes.

Such an ordinance will be months in the making, according to WMFR Deputy Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, Lathrop and others will conduct a workshop on residential sprinklers and the process for drafting an ordinance at the WMFR Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. The workshop will take place before a regular meeting of the district’s board of commissioners.

Lathrop is working with representatives from eight fire districts in the county to decide the best way to draft and adopt a residential sprinkler ordinance.

Such ordinances are not rare, but they are not nearly as common as regulations requiring or smoke detectors and sprinkler systems in commercial buildings and multi-family dwellings.

Lathrop observed that smoke alarms are great early detection devices, while sprinklers are excellent early suppression devices.

He added, “You can sprinkle your home cheaper than your lawn. A system costs about as much as wall-to-wall carpeting in your house - $1.50 a square foot.”

Still, less than 1 percent of residential property owners will add a sprinkler system to their new home, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

NFPA statistics show that in the United States, eight out of 10 fire deaths occur in the home. Fires in one- and two-family dwellings caused $5.7 billion in direct property loss last year. Fire safety experts believe sprinklers are the next generation in home fire safety because they save lives, reduce property loss and help cut homeowner insurance premiums.

Lathrop said the key to a successful ordinance locally will be drafting one that works countywide and provides incentives for developers and property owners to install systems.

Insurance companies already offer one incentive - reduced rates for policies covering homes with sprinklers.

Fire districts may also offer some reduced rates, such as rebates or lowered impact fees for new homes built with sprinkler systems.

Eventually, Lathrop said, a local measure also may deal with promoting the installation of sprinkler systems in existing homes.

At this week’s commission meeting in Holmes Beach, Lathrop hopes to get some direction on how to proceed with an ordinance, specifically working with the other districts to collect information about the impact of incentive programs on district budgets and the need for an ordinance.

“When we do submit an ordinance,” Lathrop said, “everybody has to be on the same page.”

Lathrop added that local building officials also are involved in the project.