Berlin Compromises On Sprinkler Issue

BERLIN – After a month of speculation and debate, a decision has finally been reached on whether Berlin will exempt itself from the state mandate requiring sprinkler systems to be installed in all new one- and two-family dwellings.

After input from the public, a suggestion was made by a local resident for a compromise – exempting only single-family dwellings and not duplexes from mandatory sprinkler systems. It was a suggestion the council agreed with, passing it with only one council member in opposition.

Before the ordinance was voted on, the council opened the floor to the public for any last-minute comments, since most of the information had already been presented at a public hearing held at the last council meeting. John Kotoski, a member of the Eastern Shore Builders Association who had spoken at the public hearing against mandatory sprinklers, made a brief comment. He mentioned a billboard that he had noticed on Route 50 that was endorsed by a national firefighter’s group and advocated the use of smoke detectors in homes.

“It [the billboard] shows smoke detectors and alarms for carbon dioxide,” Kotoski informed the council. “You don’t see a sprinkler on there.”

Kotoski argued that the billboard reinforced his point from the public hearing, basically that smoke detectors were the main tool for saving lives, and that sprinkler systems, while beneficial, were not necessary.

The only other member of the public to address the assembly was Ron Cascio, a resident of the town. He stated that while he wasn’t sure if he’d support mandatory sprinkler systems in single-family homes, he expressed “heartache that we might exclude duplexes [from needing mandatory sprinklers].”

Cascio pointed out that someone purchasing a single-family home should have the freedom to decide whether they wanted sprinklers. He stressed that it was the owner’s choice and thus, his or her responsibility.

However, Cascio’s concern was that in a duplex situation, where two families would live in the same building, the issue of personal responsibility would become moot, since no matter how safe one family was having a careless neighbor could result in both families having to deal with a fire.

Cascio suggested exempting single-family residences but not two-family dwellings. The suggestion generated a lot of discussion, mainly over the fact that duplexes have “firewalls”, which are meant to stop the spread of fire from one domicile to the next. However, Councilman Troy Purnell, who is also a local developer, explained that firewalls were not perfect, and that flames could rise over them through the rafters if the fire was severe enough.

Councilwoman Lisa Hall took a moment to comment on what was considered one of the main arguments for exempting Berlin from the mandatory sprinkler requirement – the central location of the town’s fire department.

“I don’t like the fact that we’re opting out because of the location of the firehouse,” she seaid.

Councilman Dean Burrell then articulated the conflict he was having with the issue.
“Last night I was certain about how I’d vote,” he told the assembly.

He went on to explain that several times during the day his opinion had changed or wavered because he could see both sides of the issue.

In the end, Purnell made a motion to adopt Cascio’s suggestion and to reword the ordinance so that new single-family residences would be exempted from the mandatory sprinkler rule, but two-family buildings, or duplexes, would not be exempt.

Hall was the only member to oppose the amendment and it passed by majority vote.