Home sprinklers urged to stop fires

County fire marshal says they're needed in areas lacking crews, hydrants
By Marin Decker
Deseret Morning News

PROVO — They may be expensive — even unattractive — but home sprinkler systems can save lives. That's why Utah County's fire marshal is pushing for more stringent sprinkler-system requirements for homes in outlying areas of Utah Valley.
"Some think it's an additional cost that is a lot of money," said fire marshal Dennis Barker. "But you talk to the ones who have had homes that have caught on fire — and they think it's great."
Since 1990, homes in unincorporated areas of Utah County have not been required to have access to a water system or have sprinklers if the homes don't measure 6,000 square feet when built.
A proposed county fire code, however, would require the installation of sprinklers in new homes if they aren't close enough to fire hydrants or fire departments.
"What I'm after is to make sure the homeowner is protected in case there is a fire," he said. "If you are way out in the country and the fire department is 20 minutes away" the chances aren't good the home could be saved without a home system.

In areas like Genola, Goshen, Santaquin, and Saratoga Springs, water tankers are on call at the nearest fire station to bring extra water to a fire. But because fires can burn quickly the extra time the trucks have to travel often is just too long.
"Our problem is the response time can be lengthy in rural areas — anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes," Barker said. "A fire multiplies. Every minute, it doubles. So what I'm trying to do is get them to have a water supply nearby. If we can't get that . . . then maybe require a sprinkling system to be put in the homes."
Barker is in the process of contacting different stakeholders to gather input before the Utah County Commission votes on the proposed new fire code. Commissioners, who are scheduled to take action on the measure next month, anticipate that homebuyers won't be pleased.
Bruce John Stracke, who works with Wasatch Homes in Santaquin, said while homebuyers balk at the average $5,000 extra cost for home sprinklers, he thinks it is worth it.
"While many homebuyers do feel that it's kind of onerous, in my opinion, the cost of putting in the sprinklers is just not worth arguing about," Stracke said. "It's just better to put them in. But the cost does get passed along to the homebuyers, and I'm not sure they feel the same way I do. The gut reaction is always, 'We don't want to do it.' "
Stracke said that when sprinklers are required in the fire code, it simplifies matters for homebuilders.
"The fact of the matter is, if it's required, then I'm on a level playing field with all of the other builders, so no one has an unfair advantage," he said.
Barker said there is a national movement toward requiring sprinklers on all new home construction.
"The National Fire Protection Agency just came out in their recommendations that all new homes should be sprinkled, everywhere," he said. "It's not a rule yet, but it sounds like they're on their way to getting that done."
According to the Home Fire Sprinkling Coalition, most home fires are put out with two sprinkler heads with a storage of 10 to 15 minutes of water. Barker said people tend to focus on the cost rather than the fact that the quick response time of sprinklers can often save lives.
"People tend to put cost associated with fire protection in front of what our lives are worth," he said. "If they didn't have a fire, they'd think that the cost of fire protection is astronomical. If they lose someone in a fire, they'd give anything to have them back."