It was against this backdrop that the fire service representatives attended the hearing in Baltimore last month. The battle lines were drawn and the stakes were high. Success in Baltimore was of utmost importance and pivotal for both sides. Yet by all means, not the final and decisive victory for either side. After all, the battle at the national level will be fought at least one more time during the final action hearing next year in Dallas from May 14 - 23; and at the state and local jurisdictions the battles could go on for many years to come.
With that said, it was indeed a great surprise and a proud moment, to see in front of almost 2,000 ICC members, that the Residential Building Code Committee (RBCC) members, voted seven to four against the proposals to remove the residential fire sprinklers out of the code. As you might have guessed already, those four votes in support of removing the residential fire sprinklers came from the four NAHB appointees on the committee.
Failing at the committee level, our opponents then asked for a floor vote. It was a joyous moment when a sea of many hundreds of public servants and fire professionals raised their hands in support of the residential fire sprinklers. After glancing at the audience for a brief moment, and without even feeling the need for an electronic vote count, the moderator declared "that motion clearly fails." A solid victory by all accounts; and a historical accomplishment for the fire service and our building official peers alike.
In this single significant event, I personally found plenty to be thankful for:
The most important one to acknowledge is the depth of commitment and the incredible camaraderie between all of the various fire service organizations. This single event demonstrated the dedication of many national organizations to the cause of fire safety in our country. The big guns were all there, and it was a joyous event to hear them all roar. The International Associationof Fire Chiefs (IAFC) was there in full force, and all their sections and divisions put their support behind this effort. The International Asoociation of Fire Fighters (IAFF) was there and with their strong participation they clearly acknowledged the fact that fire sprinklers save firefighters' lives too.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was there and put their support and gave a helping hand to the ICC, who is their main competitor in the code development arena. It was beautiful to see that, for the sake of better protecting our communities and our public from the wrath of fire, that they put their not so friendly rivalry of the past behind them, and their relationship has now evolved to a much higher degree of cooperation. Many of the burn survivors and the burn safety advocacy groups were there in mass and participated in this historical vote. The contributions and active participation of these grassroots organizations were instrumental to the successful outcome of this long overdue public safety measure.
For me, it was a proud moment to see that Glenn Gaines, the U.S.Fire Administration's (USFA) Deputy Fire Administrator, was the first speaker to walk to the floor microphone and declare the USFA's strong support for the residential fire sprinkler requirement. And what a great job Glenn did in establishing our case and depicting our professional obligation to better protecting our communities and public throughout the land.
Even though symbolic, yet it is still heart warming and a moral booster indeed, to have our country's deputy fire chief take command and lead the charge in our battles. It sends a very strong message of national leadership. And to us in the fire service, it also shows the revival and emergence of the USFA to fill the leadership role outlined by the famous 1973 America Burning Report.
I don't think anyone could have done a better job in organizing and leading the fire service organizations on the residential fire sprinkler issue than my own mentor Ronny Coleman. What a wonderful job Ronny has done during the past three decades and more, in nourishing the support and finally achieving this great accomplishment. Undoubtedly he is the father and founder of this movement.
I would be remiss not to give the greatest of accolades to my friend Jeff Shapiro. Jeff has proven once again, and this time not only to the fire prevention and code development type folks, but to the entire fire service in our country (if not indeed globally), that when it comes to the construction codes, he indeed is the guru and the greatest strategists of all, period. His hard work, endless energy, professionalism, commitment, dedication, and calm and cool leadership style proved to be essential for this hardest of all task of getting the residential fire sprinkler requirements into the codes. In my mind, no one else could have done it better than Jeff.