Learning from Others

The Department of Transportation deems the additional 1.7% cost of an engineering solution is justifiable, even though rollovers count for only 3 percent of the annual crashes, and the associated 10,000 deaths account for only 23% of the total...


We in the fire service could and should learn from the experiences of other organizations in the life safety field that are taking proactive measures to reduce their total national fatalities. I believe that one such organization could be the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that is a major agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

On April 5, at the New York International Auto Show, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announced that all new vehicles will be required to have anti-rollover technology called "Electronic Stability Control (ESC)" by the 2012 model year. She stated, "it is estimated that the ESC could save between 5,300 and 9,600 lives annually and prevent up to 238,000 injuries a year once it is fully deployed into the nation's fleet." According to Nicole Nason, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "there seems to be general recognition from auto manufacturers and the suppliers and safety advocates that this is technology that will save thousands of lives."

More then 43,000 people are killed annually on the nation's roadways. Annually, more than 10,000 people die in rollovers, even though only 3 percent of crashes involve rollovers. NHSTA said that installation of the ESC would cost $111 per vehicle on those that already include antilock brakes, or a total of $479 per vehicle for the entire system.

While different, there are many similarities between this story and the residential fire sprinkler system technology that we have been fighting for. Considering that the average price of new car in 2006 was $27,800, the additional $479 for the ESC is just about 1.7 percent of the total cost. In 2006, the average price of a new house was $293,200, and according to the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) the cost for installation of residential fire sprinklers is about 1.5 percent of the total building cost.

Here is the difference, however; the Department of Transportation deems the additional 1.7% cost of this engineering solution to be justifiable, even though rollovers count for only 3 percent of the annual crashes, and the associated 10,000 deaths account for only 23% of the total fatalities. In our fire world, Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) claims that "installing both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system reduces the risk of death in a fire home by 82% relative to having neither." Unfortunately, despite the fact an engineering solution such as the residential fire sprinkler system can have a tremendous future impact in reducing our national fire fatalities, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) opposes this technology mainly based on the additional 1.5% associated cost.

Do you see the difference? The national leadership in the field of transportation mandates that to reduce 23% of their total fatalities, manufacturers must comply by 2012 and install a new technology that adds an additional cost of 1.7% to the average cost of a car. And interestingly enough, the auto manufacturers and the suppliers and safety advocates all recognize that this technology will save thousands of lives. So, at the end of the day, they will put the ESC in all cars by 2012 and, as we all know, pass that additional cost to the consumers. But, here in our fire world, we are still caught in a battle with the NAHB and their supporters in the International Code Council's (ICC), to get the residential fire sprinkler requirement in the 2009 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC).

Just a few weeks ago, on May 22, in the ICC Final Action Hearing in Rochester, NY, despite receiving a strong majority by the virtue of 56% of the votes, fire and life safety advocates for the installation of residential fire sprinkler system in all new homes, were unable to reach the two-thirds majority needed to overturn the ICC code committee's opposition to residential fire sprinkler systems.

This content continues onto the next page...