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Bid to Require Apartment Fire Sprinklers Defeated

November 05, 1987|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times County Bureau Chief

Under pressure from builders complaining about costs, the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday rejected the county fire chief's recommendation to require that sprinklers be installed in multiple-family dwellings.

Supervisor Don R. Roth, a former real estate agent and the son of a retired fire safety engineer, said he was concerned that the requirement for sprinklers could add up to $2,000 per housing unit, in addition to county-imposed fees for roads, parks and other services that already range up to $15,000 to $20,000 per unit.

"I am troubled that we are becoming an elitist county where only the wealthy can afford to buy a home," Roth said.

"I realize you cannot put a price on life," he added, but said homeowners can install sprinklers themselves if they wish.

Supervisors agreed to the recommendation of the county chapter of the Building Industry Assn. that they wait until the state and local jurisdictions adopt a proposed new building code in 1989.

That code would require sprinklers in multiple-family apartments, condominiums and hotels, if the buildings are at least three stories or have at least 16 dwelling units.

Affordable Housing Claim

Requiring sprinklers now "would significantly jeopardize our ability to produce affordable housing" in the county, said John B. Withers, a BIA official.

But Larry Holms, the county's director of fire services, told supervisors that his staff believes the cost of sprinklers would be less than the builders estimated. He also argued that it would be cheaper for the county in the long run to have an additional fire-protection device than to add more firefighters.

He also said that the installation of smoke detectors in many buildings helped decrease the national fire death toll from 12,000 people annually in 1970 to 6,000 today.

But smoke detectors, he said, often are insufficient for the very young, the very old and the incapacitated--the people who "cannot help themselves," and who need a device that would extinguish a fire, not merely warn of its existence.

Holms also said he was uncertain of the full effect of the new building code and asked board members to give him 90 days to try to work out a compromise with the BIA. But they rejected his request.

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