OC Approves Sprinkler Change

OCEAN CITY – Unlike their colleagues in the county and Berlin, the Ocean City Mayor and Council has no problem with a change to the building code requiring fire sprinkler systems be installed in newly built single-family homes.

According to a letter written by City Engineer Terry McGean, on Jan. 1, 2010 the state recognized the 2009 International Building Code, and the International Energy Conservation Codes, replacing the 2006 version of these codes. Local jurisdictions were to implement and enforce the 2009 codes within six months of the state adoption.

“We were not aware of the state’s adoption of the new code until the issue of residential sprinkler systems surfaced in the county,” McGean said.

The list of changes is extensive, but the requirement to sprinkle newly built single-family homes seems to be the most significant.

This requirement does not apply to existing homes, except in cases of substantial alteration. Ocean City already requires single-family homes and duplexes of three or more stories, as well as town houses, to be sprinkled.

The amendment does not require sprinklers in small closets or non-habitable attics. Also, it does not require a separate, specialized piping system. It can connect directly into the domestic plumbing system.

Mayor Rick Meehan questioned why the system is not required in attics.

“They want it where the fires are mostly likely to start, like in kitchens and living rooms,” Fire Marshal Sam Villani said.

“Also, it is about life safety,” McGean added. “You’re not sleeping in the closet or in the attic. The idea is to get you out.”

The state government regulates modular homes, so the amendment will apply to modular homes. But, because the federal government regulates mobile homes, this requirement will not apply to mobile homes.

Council Jim Hall seemed disappointed in the fact the city could not include mobile homes in the amendment, due to the fact that mobile homes are regulated by the federal government.

“It seems like to me that when you see the deaths, a lot of them are in mobile homes,” he said.

The estimated additional cost to sprinkle a single-family home is between $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot. Costs for complex systems required for large custom homes can be much higher.

According to Villani, the NFPA 13D is the sprinkler system that will apply to the amendment. It applies to no more than a three-story family dwelling, which is also acceptable for townhouses. The system is primarily designed for life safety. The sprinkler system most often completely extinguishes a fire, resulting in thousands of dollars of savings through reduced fire loss.

Villani cleared up a couple of myths about sprinkler systems. When exposed to a certain amount of heat, he said sprinkler heads activate, often leading to one head activating and controlling a fire. Also, when installed properly, sprinkler systems are no more likely to freeze than domestic water lines are. The number one cause of frozen sprinkler pipes in Ocean City is caused from residents turn their heat off while their home is unoccupied.

Councilman Joe Hall pointed out that Ocean City is a resort town and consequently many people winterize their homes when they are not occupied and turn off their heat.

“The Fire Marshal will allow to drain the system [sprinkler] and winterize,” McGean said. “Just like you would the rest of your system [domestic]. The 13D system uses your domestic plumbing lines. You drain the system just as you would winterize your home and not use your toilet…when you come back and use your toilet, you got to turn on your domestic water, which by default will energize the sprinkler system.”

In 2009, 29 building permits were issued in Ocean City for one- and two-story single-family homes that did not require a sprinkler system. These homes would require a sprinkler system if permitted after Jan. 1, 2011.

“I represent the most efficient method of fire protection to the taxpayers…based on my 40 years plus of experience of fire service, I find fire sprinklers to provide the highest percentage of surviving a fire in your home,” Villani said. “And for the 200-plus firefighters and volunteers that fight fires in Ocean City, it improves the safety of the work place.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas motioned to accept the recommendation to include the requirement to sprinkle single-family homes and she was seconded by Joe Hall.

“I fully support this,” Council President Jim Hall said. “I know it is expensive, and I know they’re not going to like it, but not only is it going to protect the resident, but the firefighters and police officers also.”

The council voted unanimously on the recommendation. The amendment of the building code will move forward to first and second reading.

“I consider it a very wise investment to have a firefighter in my house 24/7,” Pillas said. “I already invest in the fire department in town and the police department in town, and this to me would be an investment for my family.”

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