Fire Sprinklers “Mandatory Option” is Just what the Doctor Ordered!

Rusty MacLachlanA funny thing happened on the way to mandatory fire sprinklers.  The Home Builder’s Association of Missouri and the State Fire Chiefs of the Show Me state hashed out an agreement where the real winner is the buying public.  As you well know the National Association of Home Builder’s attempts to halt the inclusion of Mandatory fire sprinklers in the 2009 building codes failed.

Faced with mandatory sprinklers in all new homes, the HBA of Missouri caught the attention of state lawmakers with legislative language that would prevent political subdivisions (cities, counties, fire protection districts) from adopting the residential sprinkler mandate. Instead, the legislation we have supported would require all builders to offer complete information to their customers about fire sprinkler systems, their advantages, disadvantages, and costs:

A builder of single family dwellings or residences or multi-unit dwellings of four or fewer units shall offer to any purchaser on or before the time of entering into the purchase contract the option, at the purchaser’s cost, to install or equip fire sprinklers in the dwelling, residence, or unit.

Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no purchaser of such a single family dwelling, residence, or multi-unit dwelling shall be denied the right to choose or decline to install a fire sprinkler system in such dwelling or residence being purchased by any code, ordinance, rule, regulation, order, or resolution by any county or other political subdivision.  Any county or other political subdivision shall provide in any such code, ordinance, rule, regulation, order, or resolution the mandatory option for purchasers to have the right to choose and the requirement that builders offer to purchasers the option to purchase fire sprinklers in connection with the purchase of any single family dwelling, residence, or multi-family-unit dwelling of four or fewer units.

Placing this provision in state law would allow the home buyer to make an informed decision whether to purchase or decline a sprinkler system for their home. This “mandatory option” for homeowners seemed like a reasonable middle ground to us.

Action in Jefferson City began with our trip to legislative day this past February, when the HBA of Greater Springfield showed up to Jefferson City in force.  In meetings with our representatives and senators we clearly expressed our concerns.  They listened and this legislation was drafted to stop what those at the national level could not.  Our “mandatory option” proposal was a move towards the center in hopes of finding a compromise with the fire districts.  Many municipal fire departments and area fire districts were holding firm in their stand for nothing less than full adoption of the 2009 building code, including the fire sprinklers mandate.

The battle lines were drawn, and politically this was a “Hot Potato.”  Senator John Griesheimer, from the St. Louis area, called for a meeting. He asked builders and fire fighters to come to the state capital to find common ground.  Matt Morrow and I journeyed to Jefferson City last week to defend the American Dream.  Senator Griesheimer made it very clear to the group that we needed to come to agreement and work in good faith. He then appointed the Eureka, Missouri Fire Chief as the meeting moderator, and promptly left the room.

Wow, the odds were not looking good.  But, to the credit to the Fire Chiefs, they showed up ready to work in good faith toward a mutually acceptable solution. And, in the end we all agreed that ultimately the homeowner needs to decide for themselves whether or not to have fire sprinklers in their home. The fire officials believe strongly that if the buying public understands the virtues of residential fire sprinklers, then most will opt in. The primary remaining dispute on this day was over whether the state should enact this bill, or if the matter should be at the sole discretion of local authorities.

After a long day we agreed to support passage of our state legislative language, but to include a December 31, 2011 sunset to the bill.  At that point the local authorities  will regain control of the issue.  Both sides agreed to jointly draft and sign a letter supporting permanent local ordinance language that reflects the temporary state legislative compromise of the “mandatory option.” This letter will be signed by the Missouri Fire Safety Alliance and the HBA of Missouri, and it will be sent to all state municipalities. The HBA of Greater Springfield will then spend the next 2 ½ years making the case to local and county governments that they should adopt this model ordinance endorsed by the HBA of Missouri and the Missouri Fire Safety Alliance.

The legislative process can at times be messy, but clearly the system works when you stay informed and stay involved.  I have no doubts that our strong presence on legislative day, coupled with a strong PAC is paying huge dividends.  Continue to stay informed, stay involved, and most importantly support our PAC, the Coalition for Building a Better Tomorrow.

Keeping the Faith

God Bless