Monday, March 19, 2012

Oklahoma City considers fire sprinkler requirement for new homes

By Michael Kimball

The Oklahoma City Council is considering adopting a new building code that would require automatic fire sprinkler systems to be installed in new homes. The matter is set for a public hearing March 27 and a potential vote April 3.

A pending decision by the Oklahoma City Council on whether to require automatic fire sprinkler systems in new homes appears to pit public safety advocates and housing industry organizations against one another.

The new Oklahoma building codes allow individual cities to decide on an optional part of the updated rules that would make automatic fire sprinklers mandatory in new construction of houses and duplexes.

The council will debate the issue March 27 in a public hearing and is set to vote on the new rules April 3.

Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs, a former city fire chief, is the leading advocate on the council for adopting the optional requirement for automatic sprinklers.

“Hopefully people understand my background. My family spent three generations trying to preserve life and property in Oklahoma City,” Marrs said. “So you can expect that I'm going to be very supportive of something that I know works. Residential fire sprinklers save lives. There's just no two ways about it. They do.”

Developers opposedMarrs acknowledged many developers, contractors and Realtors oppose the requirement.
The Central Oklahoma Homebuilders Association, Oklahoma City Residential Code Commission, Plumbing Appeals and Code Commission and Mechanical Appeals and Code Commission made official recommendations to the council to not mandate fire sprinklers.”

“For my homebuilder friends in the audience, and I still consider them friends, they may not feel the same way,” Marrs said.

Local and state fire officials have expressed staunch support for requiring automatic fire sprinklers in new home construction. It's already required in new apartment buildings.

State lawmakers are considering new legislation that would change the code to not allow cities to require sprinklers.

Marrs called firefighters to lobby in favor of allowing cities to institute the requirement.

“I'm a little concerned that my fellow firefighters ... are not out there beating the doors down at the state to save lives as much as they beat the doors down to save their labor issues out there,” Marrs said. “To me, that's a problem.”

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