SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Residential sprinkler systems
By Kevin C. Murphy


December 11, 2007
Tuesday AM

I would like to take this opportunity to respond to Mr. Edwardson's letter regarding the actions of the City Council and the proposed adoption of the updated Fire Code.

As a contractor, Mr. Edwardson has to deal with Building and Fire Codes on a regular basis. I'm sure that this can be a frustrating experience as sometimes the "Codes" (both Building and Fire) are sometimes difficult to understand or interpret. Mr. Edwarson may not always agree with the Codes or the interpretation made by the Code Officials. Fortunately there are avenues for requesting variances for acceptable alternatives or practices to meet the intent of the Codes.

I know of one instance where a local realtor was allowed to construct a personal residential structure in a location that did not meet the requirements of the Code. The grade of the driveway was too steep, the distance from where fire apparatus could access was greater than 150 feet. As an acceptable alternative, the owner was required to install a "standpipe" from the apparatus access point to a location near the structure. A standpipe is a device that allows firefighters to attach a water supply at one end, and a hoseline at the other. This device allows for a quicker and more efficient fire attack. Installation of this device cost a fraction of a percent of the overall project, but allowed the builder to proceed.

A basic "rule of thumb" in the firefighting business is that a fire will double in size for every minute that it is allowed to free burn. Any delays in suppression efforts can result in considerably greater damage, and possible injury or loss of life if the structure is occupied. Early fire detection and suppression are critical in reducing damage and loss of life due to fire. That is why smoke detectors are required in every residential structure, and why sprinkler systems are required in many buildings. When properly installed and maintained, an automatic sprinkler system can begin extinguishing a fire almost immediately after it starts. This will reduce damage by fire, and allow occupants of the structure to escape.

Once a fire is detected and reported, the next important time factor is the response by the fire department. This time period begins when the fire department is dispatched, and ends when water is applied to the fire. Many factors can cause a delay in the response; traffic, weather, distance, etc. Staffing on apparatus is also an important factor. Are there enough personnel to perform all the functions of the fire attack?

An important purpose of Fire and Building Codes is to give the occupants of a structure (and those of neighboring structures) the greatest chance of survival if a fire were to occur. The items that Mr. Edwarson has issue with are just a few elements of a Code that is in place to protect life and property.

Certainly meeting all elements of Building and Fire Codes can add cost to a structure. But in my opinion, the cost is worth the added protection. There are some areas of the country where automatic sprinkler systems are REQUIRED to be installed in ALL new residential construction. Monetary incentives are in place in some locations to encourage owners of existing structures to retrofit with an approved automatic sprinkler system. Last time I researched the cost of these systems, the installation cost in a new structure added about 1.5% to the overall cost of the structure. This is less than most people spend floor coverings! Cost is slightly higher to retrofit an existing structure.

Ketchikan is a perfect place to encourage homeowners to install residential sprinkler systems given the topography and locations structures. When properly installed and maintained, freezing temperatures need not be a factor. If local governments wanted to be pro-active in this arena, they could implement incentives in the form of tax deferrals, rebates, or grants for those wanting to install these systems. In the absence of those measures, it is prudent for the governing bodies to adopt recognized Codes that help protect the public.

Support your local Fire Departments in any way you can, and thank them for what they do.

Merry Christmas, and have a safe Holiday Season.

Kevin C. Murphy
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Retired Ketchikan Firefighter/Fire Marshal"

Received December 10, 2007 - Published December 11, 2007


Related Viewpoint:

letter City Council: Do you really understand? By Charles Edwardson

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letter Webmail Your Opinion Letter to the Editor



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