Preemption threatens grassroots fire prevention movement

Monday, March 14, 2011


About 3000 Americans die in home fires every year and thousands more are injured. Home fires are the greatest cause of fire deaths and injuries, and children under five and older adults face the highest risk.

One of the great public health success stories of the past decade is the grassroots movement for local ordinances requiring fire sprinklers in new homes.   Residential fire sprinklers, similar to the systems required in hotels and apartment buildings, cut the risk of death from home fires by 80% and the cost of property damage by 71%. According to one study, the cost of sprinklering new homes averages $1.61 per square foot.  If you think that’s too expensive, check out the NFPA’s Faces of Fire campaign to get a sense of the incalculable costs of home fires.

In a grassroots movement that started in the late 1970’s, fire prevention advocates have passed more than 300 local ordinances across the US requiring residential sprinklers in new single- and two-family homes. These laws have passed from San Clemente, California to Pleasant View, Tennessee.  It’s an example of grassroots democracy at its best.

All this would be great news except for one thing:  Home building industry lobbyists in the state capitols have undertaken a national campaign to preempt these life saving local laws.  So far, 13 states have passed “anti-fire sprinkler” laws that take away the power of local communities to adopt these life-saving requirements.

But the risk of preemption is even greater in 2011:  Bills have already been introduced in at least eight states to take away local authority to pass residential sprinkler requirements.  Arizona has already passed legislation preempting new ordinances, in spite of the fact that Scottsdale is a national leader on fire sprinklers.  If other states follow Arizona, 20 states could preempt local control and take the wind out of the sails of this life-saving public health movement.

The grassroots fire prevention movement is supported by the Home Safety Council, NFPA, Common Voices, the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, fire chiefs, and other members of the fire service.  It’s also a great example of the Winnable Battles that the CDC believes are so important to ongoing progress in public health, and an opportunity for the public health community to partner with safety advocates, burn survivors, and the fire service.

This an update of an earlier post on residential fire sprinklers.

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