In late 2009, Pennsylvania adopted the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC). In adopting the IRC, effective January 1, 2010, Pennsylvania required that all newly constructed townhouse units contain a sprinkler system. Effective January 1, 2011, all newly constructed single-family and two-family residential units were required to contain a sprinkler system. These new requirements marked a hard fought victory for fire officials throughout the Commonwealth, who point out that approximately 85 percent of fires occur in homes. They state that 20 years ago, smoke detectors provided about 17 minutes for occupants to leave the dwelling. New lightweight construction and more flammable house contents now cut that time to three minutes. In many cases, residents are presented with significantly less than three minutes to evacuate the house.

In a 154-39 vote on March 7, 2011, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved House Bill 377, which repealed the mandate that required the installation of sprinkler systems in all single-family and two-family dwellings. The Pennsylvania Builders Association claims that the mandate increases the cost of the houses, which adds to the struggles of the construction industry. The Association gained the support of the House, including State Representative Ron Miller of York County who said, “It’s too much of a drag on our economy. The amount of safety factor improvements doesn’t merit the extra cost and the systems themselves are fraught with problems. We can’t do anything to harm the economic recovery.”

State Representative Steve Santarsiero of Bucks County, however, reported that the average cost of a sprinkler system is $4,000, much less than the Pennsylvania Builders Association’s estimate of $15,000. Further, he says, the cost is worth the safety provided by the systems. “More than 3,000 lives are still lost each year in home fires. While smoke alarms are good for alerting occupants, fire sprinklers provide the minimum time to allow people to escape including the elderly, young, impaired and disabled.”

State Senator Mike Stack also supported the Commonwealth’s firefighting community, stating, “Considering the more lightweight and flammable materials used to build today’s homes, we need extra protections in place to save homeowners’ and first responders’ lives and reduce property damage in the horrific event of a fire. I understand smoke detectors will help, but alone they are not the answer. Sprinklers, alongside smoke detectors, will provide an extra lifesaving safety measure.”

The mandate requiring sprinklers in single-family and two-family dwellings will remain in effect until its repeal is also approved by the Pennsylvania Senate and Governor Corbett. The Senate Labor and Industry Committee plans to act on the repeal in April. Corbett is also expected to approve the repeal.

Please consider contacting Senator Edwin B. Erickson (eerickson@pasen.gov) and letting him know that you support the sprinkler mandate, as sprinklers greatly improve the safety of first responders and residents.

You may also use the “Find Members By” tool at www.legis.state.pa.us to find your state senator.

Visit www.homefiresprinkler.org and click on “Consumers,” then “Videos,” then “Home Fire Timeline” to see the progression of a home fire and the difference that a sprinkler may make.