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Fire sprinkler plan sent to committee

A plan to require fire sprinklers in new homes built in unincorporated areas fizzled Tuesday after a heated debate.

Supporters and opponents came to the Clark County Commission meeting armed with dueling statistics and vitriolic arguments.

Commissioners opted to postpone. They voted to form a committee to hash out the exact costs and benefits of installing the systems.

The panel will bring back a report in six months, and a fire-sprinkler code won’t go into effect until at least 2012.

“I’m in support of adopting the code, but I don’t have a comfort level with all the facts,” Commissioner Larry Brown said.

Ron Lynn, development services director, pushed for the residential sprinklers, and county fire officials backed the proposed code.

“It is clear, fire sprinklers save lives,” Lynn said.

Representatives of groups for home builders and real estate agents argued that the county shouldn’t mandate sprinklers, especially in the bad economy.

“It should be up to the individual home-
owner what level of protection he or she wants on their property,” said Sean Fellows, a lobbyist for the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors.

Estimates varied for the installation costs. Proponents pegged the price as low as 81 cents per square foot, while opponents put the cost as high as $2 per square foot.

Disparate cost estimates were a big factor in the commission’s decision to toss the proposal to a committee.

Fire officials pointed to areas of the country that mandate residential sprinklers. They noted that homes equipped with the sprinklers sustained much less fire damage and no loss of life.

But Brian Gordon, an Applied Analysis consultant hired by the home-builders group, said a house catching fire in an unincorporated area is likely to happen only once in 86,000 years, making the odds of a fire fatality remote.

Commissioner Tom Collins countered that residential drownings were probably as unlikely, but developers must build fences around swimming pools. Some mandates imposed on builders are “ridiculous,” such as installing shrubs in new desert homes, Collins said.

“A sprinkler system, that isn’t ridiculous,” Collins said. “That’s common sense.”

Commissioner Susan Brager, a real estate agent, said she opposed pushing the mandate on builders, and sees little point in passing a code that would cover such a small portion of homes.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@review
journal.com or 702-455-4519.

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