Although sprinkler supporters don't necessarily agree that their pitch is emotional, they approach the fray with the ardor of a holy mission. "I've seen a lot more fatalities than home builders," Coleman said.
Unlike developers who have profits at stake, "we have nothing to gain but the best interests of the public," said John Roberts, San Bernardino County Fire Agency division chief and fire marshal, who pushed his hometown of Fontana to require sprinklers in 1986.
Roberts put his money where his mouth is--he retrofitted his own home with sprinklers. Several other officials, including Coleman and Glendale City Manager Dave Ramsay and Fire Marshal Gray, also have voluntarily installed home sprinklers.
Andy Rodriguez, Moreno Valley's building and safety director and fire marshal, plans to add sprinklers to his two-story home, although it will cost nearly $6,000. "My family's worth more than $6,000," he said.
So far, Roberts' system is the only one put to the test.
In 1987, his wife, Mary, was cooking \o7 taquitos\f7 when she left the kitchen for a phone chat with Roberts. During their talk, the oil caught fire. A sprinkler doused the fire, and damage was $1,800, about what the system cost. Roberts said even his own fire department wouldn't have been able to arrive in time to save the house from major damage.
"I'm very satisfied we did a good thing by requiring sprinklers," Roberts said. "It's a fire marshal's duty--when you know something is right, you have to fight for it."
Although builders argued it would discourage development in Fontana, more than 7,000 houses with sprinklers have been added since the city ordinance took effect, Roberts said. At least 13 homes have been saved when sprinklers came to the rescue.
However, cities' right to require sprinklers is being challenged by one member of the building industry.
Wayne Holden, who designs home plans, is suing Encinitas in San Diego County Superior Court, trying to stop the city from imposing its sprinkler requirement for new homes.
Holden formed a group called Taxpayers Against Sprinklers, whose 17 members are angry about sprinkler costs. The suit asks for an injunction on the grounds that local jurisdictions are not supposed to have fire safety requirements--including home sprinklers--that are more stringent than the state fire marshal's, according to a 1989 opinion by state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp.
Cities that require sprinklers say their ordinances are permitted by language that allows stricter requirements if justified by local conditions. Although Holden said Encinitas did not follow proper procedure for such justification, Chief Robert La Marsh of the Encinitas Fire Protection District disputes that and said the city plans to defend the ordinance in court.
If the legal controversy is settled in the city's favor, more places are likely to require sprinklers.
Corona is waiting for the legal dust to settle before proposing an ordinance, said Fire Chief Robert McNabb. He would like to see it happen soon, because Corona is expected to grow from 70,000 to 150,000 residents in 10 years.
Safety is the main reason for installing sprinklers, but many cities, like Corona, also feel pressured by development that increases fire protection demands.
Sprinklers don't eliminate the need for fire departments, but they may allow cities to add fewer stations and firefighters, said Gene Begnell, San Clemente fire marshal. However, most calls are for accidents and medical emergencies, rather than house fires, Begnell said.