Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2012, 6:00 am

Views from QCA: Sprinkle in these facts

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By Carl Burney

It appears the geniuses in Illinois government will probably mandate sprinkler systems in all new homes built in the state. Depending on who you talk to, adding a sprinkler system will add anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 to the cost of building a new home depending on it's size.

They don't talk about the cost of ongoing maintenance, repairs and damage from accidental discharges. But you can bet the plumber's union is salivating at the prospect of a new stream of revenue from yet another unfunded government mandate. But I digress.

I've been in the fire service for 16 years. It is my firm opinion that a $10,000-$15,000 sprinkler system in your home won't do anything to save your life that a couple of $10 smoke alarms won't do.

I've responded to several calls where someone was close to death due to smoke inhalation from small smoldering fires that were not even large enough to trigger a sprinkler had they had one.

I've also seen a few fatalities that were attributable as much to lack of working smoke alarms as they could have been for lack of sprinklers. In my 16 years I've also yet to see a fire that was extinguished by a sprinkler system in a business. I've been on plenty of false alarm calls though where a malfunctioning system sets off the fire alarms.

My point is, mandating expensive sprinkler systems in single-family homes just does not make any sense from a cost/risk analysis. I liken it to mandating that all speed limits be just 10 mph.

Crazy you say? Well, according to the National Fire Protection Association 2011 statistics I checked, in the entire USA, 2,105 people died in fires in single-family homes. By comparison, 918 people died in Illinois alone due to traffic accidents. So, why not 10 mph speed limits that will virtually eliminate all traffic accident deaths, saving 10 times as many lives as mandated sprinklers?

There are risks in life. Risks we accept when we get behind the wheel and drive whatever speed we drive. Risks we accept every time we spend that $10 on something far less important than that needed smoke alarm or fresh batteries for the one you already have.

I don't have a sprinkler system in my home. That is a risk I'm willing to accept because the fact is the odds of my home ever having a fire are quite small, and if I do, my smoke alarm will alert me and I'll be out long before I have to worry about burning to death.

]I find it quite ironic that I've yet to talk to any sprinkler law advocate who already has shelled out the bucks for a system in their own home. I call them hypocrites. If they truly believed in sprinklers they wouldn't need a law forcing them to install them nor would they want it mandated for anyone else.

Working smoke detectors are the single best way for you to be saved from a fire in your home. Multiple egress routes out of your home should also always be a part of your escape plan.

Sprinklers? Not so much. Buy them if you want them. Don't mandate them.
Carl Burney of Silvis, is a longtime firefighter.