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Fire Chiefs Lobby For Sprinkler Law

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WAMC
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Fire chiefs from western Massachusetts hosted state legislators and municipal officials at a breakfast this morning to lobby for a fire safety bill.

The gathering was highlighted by a dramatic demonstration in the parking lot of the Log Cabin and Banquet House in Holyoke, where fires were started in two identical rooms.  One fire raged out of control and destroyed a sofa, table, and TV set.

The second fire was extinguished quickly by a water sprinkler that activated automatically.

Witnesses to the demonstration could not help but be impacted by what they saw.  The Western Massachusetts Fire Chiefs Association hopes it translates into action on Beacon Hill.  The association’s legislative director, Westfield Fire Chief Mary Regan said a bill has been filed for the second consecutive legislative session to allow cities and towns, as a local option, the authority to require fire sprinklers in all new home construction.

"We need to protect people where they feel most safe, but are  actually at greatest risk of dying in a fire," said Regan.

Regan said in the last 10 years in Westfield there have been seven fatal fires in single family homes.

Model safety codes assume fire sprinklers will be installed in new one- and two-family homes, but Massachusetts does not include the requirement in the state’s building code.

Springfield Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant, who is president of the Western Massachusetts Fire Chiefs Association, said the cost of putting sprinklers in a new home in Massachusetts is estimated at $2 per square foot.

" People think nothing of paying to put sprinklers in their yard when they build a new home and a lawn sprinkler system is about the same cost as an interior sprinkler system," said Conant.

The fire chiefs say unlike smoke alarms fire sprinklers are activated by heat, so the risk of a false activation is very small.  Also, the sprinkler system can be designed to spray water only in the area where the fire originates to keep water damage to the entire house to a minimum.

State Rep. Aaron Vega of Holyoke is a co-sponsor of the sprinkler legislation. He said he is optimistic that opposition to it from the homebuilding industry can be overcome.

" It is a cost that is going to have payback in saving peoples lives and saving the property," said Vega.

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Credit WAMC
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State legislators, municipal officials and others gathered in the parking lot at the Log Cabin in Holyoke for the demonstration

Several municipal officials attended Friday’s breakfast including Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen, who said the demonstration convinced him of the necessity for home fire sprinklers.

" I think it is very important that our elected officials at the state level at least pass a local option so each town has the opportunity to initiate laws that  save lives, and that's the main goal," said Cohen.

Massachusetts requires fire sprinklers in all new apartment buildings with six or more apartments. Sprinklers are also required to be installed as part of any major renovation to older apartment buildings.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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