SHERIDAN — As Sheridan’s city council prepares to consider adoption of the 2018 International Building Codes, building codes developed by the International Code Council that are used as base code standards in several jurisdictions in the United States, the community is weighing the costs of including a section of the codes that requires all residential structures contain fire sprinklers.
The city has opted to omit the fire sprinkler requirement from its adoption of international building codes for the past nine years due to concerns that the requirement would drive up building costs, but safety concerns, as well as arguments that the sprinkler requirement’s impact on building costs has been overstated, are leading council members, and members of the community, to question whether the codes should be omitted again this year.
During a city council study session last week, building official Kevin Bare said the sprinkler requirement’s inclusion in the International Building Codes year after year means it is unlikely to go away. He acknowledged that local builders raised cost concerns during public feedback sessions again this year, but that city staff was exploring ways to address those concerns, such as tax rebates or insurance reductions, without omitting the requirement.
“We hope to make this proposed change a wash when it comes to the costs of construction,” Bare said. “And we are dispelling myths every hour we are at work.”
J.D. Gamble, who owns Life Safety Solutions, said the belief that requiring fire sprinklers would drive up building costs is a misconception. He explained that currently builders are required to build a rated mechanical room around furnaces in crawlspaces, and the cost of building that room is more expensive than a fire sprinkler system.
He also said that omitting the sprinkler requirement could create fire safety issues. Gamble explained that, due to the materials builders use, homes burn much faster now than they did previously, which is why the International Code Council continues to include the sprinkler requirement in its codes.
Earlier this month, the McGrath Consulting Group delivered its fire service study of fire departments in Sheridan County and concluded that the Sheridan Fire Rescue would struggle to respond to fires in much of the city within four minutes due to its small staff. With higher local response times and faster burning times, Gamble said fires in Sheridan could be more severe if homes do not include fire sprinklers.
During the study session, Councilor Alex Lee raised a similar concern. Lee said though he has voted to omit the sprinkler requirement during the past two code adoptions, the International Code Council continues to include the requirement in its codes and, if adopted, the requirement could improve safety of homes for local firefighters.
“If our firefighters aren’t rushing into a structure that’s on fire, that’s a good day,” Lee said.
City council is expected to consider the first reading of the International Building Codes adoption at its Nov. 5 meeting, but community development director Brian Craig said council could pull the section related to fire sprinklers from the codes and consider it separately, which would give the city more time to address concerns about the sprinkler requirement.