ABC Uses Fire Tragedy to Push More Government Regulation

     While the tragic death of nine Charleston, S.C. firefighters was still fresh on everyone’s minds, ABC’s “World News” used the incident to make a case for more government regulation by pushing for mandated sprinkler systems in businesses and homes.


     “So why do so many buildings, like the one where nine Charleston firefighters died last night not have sprinklers installed?” asked ABC’s Law and Justice Correspondent Jim Avila on June 19. “Experts say because there is no national fire code that makes business owners install them and state and local laws are inconsistent and only cover new construction, rarely requiring older buildings to retrofit.”


     There may be cost benefits from having a sprinkler system, like lower insurance rates – but it is something many professionals say should be left up to individual choice. That’s a perspective ABC completely ignored.


     The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) says there are more effective ways to promote fire safety – including fire alarms. In a press release issued in March, the NAHB stated the costs of mandatory sprinklers don’t equal the benefits. “Installing residential fire sprinkler systems significantly increases the cost of a new home, and is neither a practical nor cost effective means of reducing fire fatalities.”


     One ABC source advocated a more militant requirement. “We should have sprinklers in all public structures, period,” said Philip Schaenman, identified as an “Emergency preparedness analyst.”  


     The ABC story also relied heavily on data from the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA). But, the NFSA isn’t an organization that is dedicated solely to promoting fire safety – as this report portrayed it, nor is it an unbiased source.


     In fact, the NSFA is an agenda-driven organization interested in promoting the sales of sprinkler systems. According to the organization “Mission Statement” on its Web site, the purpose of the NFSA is “to create a market for the widespread acceptance of competently installed automatic fire sprinkler systems in both new and existing construction, from homes to high-rise.”


     Avila stated the cost would have been minimal to have sprinklers installed. “In fact the costs about the same as a good carpet to install,” said Avila. The story compared that to cost to $1.50 a square foot to install.


     However, ABC’s estimate is based on the cost for a much larger building than the one that burned down in Charleston. According to the Maintenance Solutions, a magazine about systems in the construction industry, a sprinkler system can cost between $1.50 and $5.75 a square foot.


      The prohibitive cost of mandatory sprinkler system could even make family less safe. “When sprinklers cost $2 to $3 per square foot, you’re pricing out the families who would most benefit from an affordable new home, and allowing them to remain in an older, poorly maintained home that’s demonstrably less safe,” said Lee Schwartz, executive vice president for government relations at the Michigan Home Builders’ Association in Nation’s Building News, a publication put out by the NAHB. That is the paradox of mandatory sprinkler requirements – you end up putting even more people at risk.”