Worcester Seeks Support Opposing State Sprinkler Mandate

Worcester Seeks Support Opposing State Sprinkler Mandate
“If you look at most of these fires the loss of life is due more to the fact that there were non-operating smoke detectors in the houses,” said County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, pictured with Commissioner Ted Elder. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to seek help in their fight against the state’s fire sprinkler laws.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to send a packet of information, including draft legislation, to Maryland’s other counties in an effort to drum up support for easing the state’s sprinkler requirements. The commissioners have called the state requirement that all new residential dwellings have sprinklers government overreach and believe it’s having a negative impact on the local building industry.

“I’m just trying to form a coalition of counties to have the government change the legislation,” said Commissioner Jim Bunting, who made the motion to move forward with the effort.

In January, Worcester County leaders began discussing the possibility of creating a building permit that would allow people to opt out of the state’s sprinkler requirement. The commissioners provided various state agencies with a draft of the permit and reviewed the feedback those agencies provided at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Assistant State’s Attorney Jeremy McCoy states except under limited circumstances a local jurisdiction may not adopt local amendments to the standard that weaken or opt out of the automatic sprinkler requirements,” said Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer.

Bunting said he disagreed.

“I think we can do it,” he said. “We’re a home rule county. But I’m not going to get us in a situation that would hurt Worcester County.”

Instead, he proposed adjusting a bill introduced in 2016 so that it would allow single family dwellings to opt out of the requirement. He said he then wanted to send that draft legislation, as well as the other relevant sprinkler information Worcester County had collected, to neighboring counties, local legislators and the governor.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic suggested sending it to every county in Maryland. He said the sprinkler issue was a cause for concern for Maryland’s Rural County Coalition.

“This is something that every meeting they have this is discussed and how it’s stunted progress in their counties,” he said.

He added that after reviewing the state’s fire statistics, he believed smoke detectors should be a priority.

“If you look at most of these fires the loss of life is due more to the fact that there were non-operating smoke detectors in the houses.,” he said. “I know that I’m going to get pushback that even one life is too many to lose and I do believe that … I think we really need to work on making sure our houses and our rental homes here in the county have working smoke detectors before we worry about new houses being built.”

Commissioner Diana Purnell said that if county staff were asked to sign off on a sprinkler waiver they could have concerns about liability.

Bunting said he was suggesting pursuing a legislation change instead of the permit.

“Then we would not be asking our head of DRP (Development Review and Permitting Department) or anybody to do anything they’re not allowed to do,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Elder said he supported the effort but pointed out that people were welcome to install sprinklers if they wanted to.

“If someone wants to put sprinklers in their home they always have that right,” he said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with sending the relevant information to Maryland’s other counties.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.