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Western Maryland Firefighters refuse to help Habitat for Humanity build home to honor heroes. But they did it for a good cause

Habitat for Humanity International opposes residential sprinklers in 2008

Tennessee Habitat homes burn not long after sprinkler opposition

You may recall the story we ran in 2008 about Habitat for Humanity International supporting the National Association of Home Builders in opposing residential sprinklers. At the time Elizabeth Blake, senior vice president of advocacy, government affairs and legal with Habitat for Humanity said, "Our affiliates build all across the country and around the world. Mandating fire sprinklers fails to recognize their varying needs, and runs the risk of requiring something that may be impractical for some of our partner families. Habitat's mission is to provide simple, decent and affordable shelter for families. Each home we don't build due to an added and unjustified regulatory requirement such as this can leave yet another family in substandard housing."

Some state affiliates of Habitat have not followed the International's lead and have embraced sprinklers have had them installed in Habitat homes. Apparently that's not the case in Maryland and firefighters are taking a stand. Here's the story from the AP (with special thanks to my former colleague Jessica Glasser for sending us the story):

Some western Maryland firefighters are refusing to help Habitat for Humanity build a house meant to honor them unless a sprinkler system is added to the plans.
The Herald-Mail newspaper of Hagerstown reports that the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association is standing firm to make a point.
Volunteer firefighter Blaine Snyder said Wednesday that sprinklers save lives. The fire and rescue association wants local governmental bodies to require them in new homes.
Washington County and the city of Hagerstown require sprinklers for some new construction but not for single-family detached homes like the "Heroes House" that Habitat is planning.
Local Habitat official Sherry Brown Cooper says the "Heroes House" project will proceed, with or without the fire and rescue association's help


Comments - Add Yours

  • george harvill

    im a firefiter an its are dudy to help those hoo need it the most if ppl that are in the same fild shude no we are here to serve an to protect

    • Learn How

      If this is how you write, I would hate to see your incident reports.  The way you wrote your comment makes you look uneducated and uninformed and your words do not carry very much importance because of all the incorrect words.  Spell check and might help you in the future.

    • Spelling?

      One is inclined to believe that Mr. Harvill was intoxicated when he made this comment.

  • ukfbbuff

    My 2 cents from Calif.
    I'm in agreement with the Western Maryland Firefighters.
    Too bad Ms. Sherry Brown Cooper Doesn't  Want to Comprehend the Necessity of instaling a residential Sprinkler system at the start of the Building Project.
    While she complains about a "family living in  substandard housing" she Misses the point that Life Safty is the goal of the Sprinkler System. It pays for itself.
    Then again,another "Puffed-up with Pride, Ego, will build an occupancy that once "Fire Loaded will become a further life hazard in coming years, especially if built with the current  (Cheapier) materials.

  • Education…

    "im a firefiter an its are dudy to help those hoo need it the most if ppl that are in the same fild shude no we are here to serve an to protect"
     George, is this a joke? I'm*, firefighter*, and*, it's*, our*, duty*, who*, people*, field*, should*, know*…. wow


  • Jerome Smiff

    No sprinklers = J.O.B. security.   We are the only occupation that tries to put ourselves out of a job.  There is nothing better than rolling up with fire blowing out a few windows!  I say build without sprinklers.

    • Legeros

      The great contradiction of the American fire service…

    • RJ in florida

      Jerome, STFU & GTH…(yes dave he needs to see this and you know i'm right)

    • amy

      Jerome – as a burn survivor and former burn nurse, it is desturbing to think that this is the goal of some in the fire service.  My understanding of when a fire fighter signs on for the J.O.B. they do so to protect and preserve life and property including your own.  I think you have missed the point of your role –  and our expectations of the American fire service.  In my role as a burn nurse my primary job was taking care of those impacted by those fires you like to fight.  I worked hard in my role to PREVENT this from happening over and over… I wished everyday I could put myself out of a job. 

  • Brooks

    Sprinklers save lives.  People living in owned homes have fewer fires than those living in rented homes.  Which saves more lives per dollar spent?
    It's not as clear cut as builders trying to save a buck.  When you're building hundreds of cheap, entry-level homes, especially with volunteer labor, sprinkler systems can significantly affect the number of homes you can build.  In the grand scheme of things, sprinklers don't save that many lives:  there aren't that many fatal fires in unsprinklered homes.  (2640 home fire fatalites in US in 2010 [CDC] in 132,000,000 housing units [Census] = 1 death for every 50,000 homes).  Of course, the effect of moving from rented housing to owned housing is hard to measure as well.  The relative weight of these effects differs by jurisidiction: in areas with expensive land and labor, sprinkler requirements make more sense than in areas with inexpensive land and labor.  In the former, the sprinkler laws barely affect the availability of cheap owner-occupied housing; in the latter they can have a more significant effect.  

    • Smokeshowing

      Brooks, When is the last time you read about a fatality in a properly sprinklered building? If you have seen one please share with the group because it doesn't really happen.

  • Brooks

    Smokeshowing.  That's not my point at all.  My point is that the cost of sprinklers causes Habitat for Humanity to be able to build fewer homes.  New homes, especially owner-occupied new homes, also save lives.  The question is, how many fewer new homes can we build if we have to add sprinklers, and how many lives will be lost because families can't afford to move out of rental housing (or slum-lord apartment buildings, or substandard trailer houses), vs. how many lives will be saved because the new houses have sprinklers.
    How often do new houses burn?  (less than old houses) How often are unsprinklered house fires fatal? (not very often)  How many of those would have been prevented by sprinklers? (almost all of them).  Compare that to how much a sprinkler system adds to the cost of the house?  (little to nothing in expensive areas – it may come from builder profit; a significant portion where land and labor are cheap).  Would that money be better spent saving lives some other way — perhaps even by merely upgrading from 1950's building codes to 2010's (sans sprinkler) building codes?

  • Brooks

    Smokeshowing:  the sprinkler guys used to day that there'd never been a death in a sprinklered building.  Then they backed off to 'FULLY sprinklered', then they backed off to 'fully sprinklered and FUNCTIONAL'.  Then they backed off to "there's never been a multiple death in a building with a functional sprinkler system.  Now they're saying that there's never been more than TWO deaths in a fully sprinklered building with a functional sprinkler system.
    It's the no true scotsman fallacy if I've ever seen one.
    Bottom line is, sprinklers are not infallable, but they do work.  They prevent fire deaths.  However, they are not free.  The require us to trade something off in order to have them.  Sometimes that tradoff costs more IN LIVES, than the sprinklers are worth.

  • Anonymous

    According to the local newspaper, the volunteer association has a half a million dollars surplus, maybe they can donate some money to install the sprinklers.  And if the local IAFF cared they would donate as well.

  • Jim

    Jerome brings up an interesting point.  Our purpose is to save lives and property, but in this political and financial climate any reason can be used to downsize the fire department. Is promoting something that politicians will use to downsize us better in the long run? Will the reductions in staffing and capabilities across our broad spectrum of responsibility cost more lives than home sprinklers will?

  • Anonymous

    I found that both Brooks & Smokeshowing made valid arguments.
    What about the money saved on insuring sprinklered homes? Additionally the lives that may be saved could be our own!
    Maybe the aggregate reduction of "occupational stress" that is eliminated could further reduce cardiac LODD as a result of over exertion.
    As a Building Inspector and as a Fire Chief, I believe todays buildings will not put us out of work (today) we still have existing construction to contend with, we will always have tennant improvements, remodels, substandard & homeowner repairs and the Ubiquitous "Murphys Law" to keep us busy. Sometimes we will NEVER be aware of the lives we saved. We still need to do be dilligent.

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  • Fire Capt in North Carolina

    As a fire inspector and a fire fighter who belives in sprinklers, we all have to realize that one day these homes will be old. That means the home will have the same issues that older homes today have if history repeats itself and it typically does. My department has teamed up with habitat for humanity and intsalled a multipurpose sprinkler system in the home. It took us less than 5 hours to rough in and another two to finish once testing and ceiling were completed. It was a great community project and another chance to have a proactive engagment in the communities eye.The cost was less than 2.00 a sqft. Largely due to the labor and design was donated, all that was purchased was materials. Wether you advocate for or against sprinklers get your facts, There is no doubt that sprinklers save lives, the life it saves maybe your own. With light construction and fire times increase, they prevent flashover and collapse in most incidents. They will not put fire departments out of work. Someone will still need to do mop up and determine the origin, we may even have to assist in extinquishment. No fire is a good fire every fire is a bad fire for us and our consumers, and any fire that we could have prevented is a failure on both us and the consumer. For more information on SPrinklers and Habitat for Humanity contact Deputy Chief Floyd Fritz with the Village of Pinehurst fire department. Together over 200 homes have been sprinklered in NC/VA thru this partnership.  

  • RJ in florida

    gotta side with the sprinkler crowd on this one. i have a good saying when it comes to sprinklers; "You can DRY property, you can't UNBURN it". some might say its wrong to deprive a needy family out of a home because of the politics of residential sprinklers. but i would have sold it to HFH as an "experiment" to show the positive aspects of residential sprinklers. i believe HFH caved in to builders on this so that they would not loose future support of the home builders to their cause. (it seems a bit obvious and if i'm wrong there's an easy way to prove it… HFH, PUT THE SPRINKLERS IN!).
    the firefighter side of me says that it should be a national policy of all firefighters asked to participate in HFH ventures in their community to only participate in building homes that have residential sprinklers(if its parctical). if HFH says no thanks, make sure they get a smoke detector from the local FD (better something than nothing) and say thanks for asking. any flak from the public should be handeled as "the fire department has an obligation to insure that each resident has the best chance to preserve their property from fire and residential sprinklers have proved themselves to be lifesavers". the cost is reduced by installing them at the time of construction, so spare me the BS about cost. one life saved, one home saved is worth the cost, shame on the builders for putting the FD in this position through a fine orginization like HFH and shame on HFH for caving in