Local News

N.C. Fire Chiefs Push for Sprinklers in New Homes

Posted November 30, 2007 5:59 p.m. EST
Updated November 30, 2007 6:54 p.m. EST

— Fire chiefs statewide are pushing for sprinklers to be required in all new homes, saying they could prevent tragedies like a beach house fire last month that killed seven college students.

"The fire at Ocean Isle just really demonstrated the danger that some residential fires present," Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones said.

Seven college students from South Carolina died in an Oct. 28 fire at a beach house on Ocean Isle where they were spending a weekend on fall break.

The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs plans to lobby for a sprinkler requirement at a Dec. 10 meeting of the state Building Code Council.

"An average of 48 North Carolinians die every year in ... residential fires, and that's the place where people feel safest. That's where our highest loss is," said Jones, who has been interested in the sprinkler issue since a fatal 1996 fire at a University of North Carolina fraternity house.

"I have sprinkler system in my house. It's the best way to protect your family," he said.

The fire chiefs association doesn't plan to push for existing homes to be fitted for sprinkler systems, Jones said, but a position paper the group recently issued recommended that homeowners who can afford the cost install sprinklers.

Thomas VonCannon, vice president of operations for Piedmont Fire Protection Systems LLC, said installing sprinklers in new homes costs about $2 to $3.50 per square foot – about the same as installing carpet.

"Most of your fires are starting in electrical room, water heater or kitchen. One sprinkler head in any of those rooms would pretty well take care of those hazards," VonCannon said.

Officials with the North Carolina Homebuilders Association couldn't be reached for comment, but the National Association of Home Builders has fought against various proposals to mandate sprinkler systems in single-family homes and duplexes.