BERLIN – Fire Marshal Jeff McMahon along with a number of members from the public safety community appealed to the Town Council on Monday not to exempt the town from new construction standards that would require newly-constructed one- and two-family homes to have fire suppression sprinklers.
McMahon showed a video promoting fire sprinkler use and slides taken from a Berlin home that burned without sprinklers and a home in Ocean Pines that had less damage because the homeowner elected to have a residential sprinkler system installed.
The new rules are exclusively for new construction and would not apply to already existing structures. McMahon said there was no price that could be put on safety. The additional cost that could be added to new construction is a matter of dispute between public safety officials and developers, each of whom claims the other’s numbers are unreliable.
State Fire Marshall William Barnard added to McMahon’s comments bringing a news photo of a home “fully involved” in fire.
“The evidence is clear and simple,” he said. “Residential fire sprinklers save lives.”
Chief Derrick Simpson of the Berlin Fire Company said the company was in support of the legislation. He worried that the town’s opting out would open the town and the fire company to legal liability should a fatality occur in a new home.
Realtors and Developers Argue for Town Opt Out
Coastal Association of Realtors representative Patricia Terrill said the new regulations increase up-front cost on developers and, ultimately, the consumers. She worried it would hinder the housing recovery.
John Kotowski, representing the Eastern Shore Builders Association, said that Maryland and California are the only two states so far not to have opted out of the new national standards. He said that in addition to the raw per-foot costs, which he admitted were in dispute, there would be additional costs associated with architectural drawings and city water meter requirements.
He also took exception to the legislation being just about saving lives, pointing out there was no movement to require sprinklers in existing houses.
According to both Terrill and Kotowski, smoke detectors, which are required to by hardwired into new homes because of previous legislation, have been effective life-saving devices.
Later in the meeting, when discussing fire suppression at the Taylor House Museum, Water Resources Director Jane Kreiter told the council there are some cases where the existing water source could be used, greatly reducing the potential cost of a system.
Councilwoman Paula Lynch said she didn’t dispute that sprinklers made homes safer and found both arguments compelling.
“What I wrestle with is the mandate,” she said.
Councilwoman Lisa Hall said she supported the legislation, likening it to the town requiring homes to be on water and sewer when it became available. She said that the fact that it was only for homes going forward was convincing.
Councilman Dean Burrell asked that the motion be tabled for further study and his colleagues agreed. The council will revisit the issue at their Dec. 13 meeting.
Hospice Resolution Passes
The Town Council passed two resolutions that will better define and clear the way for development of a hospice living facility off Broad Street. The plan would eventually develop the contiguous land between Broad Street and the most westerly branch of Old Ocean City Road.
“I think it’s a natural place for this facility to be,” Mayor Gee Williams said.