Barrier to sprinklers?
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C.--The face of this barrier island community, with its 4.5 miles of oceanfront, has changed over the last decade. Old beach cottages on small lots have been razed and replaced by 4,000-square-foot homes. While fire chief Frank Smith said the town's "proactive zoning" maintains setbacks and limits the height of the new homes, he and others remain worried about fire safety.
Smith said the new homes are sometimes "15 feet apart on a beach where the wind blows 15 knots a day ... If a fire were to gain a foothold, it is possible that we could lose multiple structures, even a whole block, and we see residential sprinklers as a way to mitigate that risk."
Now, Smith and other town officials are trying to enlist realtors and homebuilders in their efforts to get fire sprinklers installed in Wrightsville Beach's homes.
The year-round population of Wrightsville is 2,600. In summer, the population balloons to 12,000, and "on the Fourth of July weekend there may be 50,000 people here, which provides some interesting challenges," Smith said.
On Jan. 23, Smith and town officials held a residential sprinkler workshop with local realtors and homebuilders to ensure that they have good factual information about the systems and components that go into a system. The town invited sprinkler contractor Eric Williams, district manager of Sunland Fire Protection in Wilmington, N.C., to give a presentation. "Basically my role was show-and-tell," Williams said. "A lot of the builders have never seen what the components look like and what it takes in terms of space for the system."
"It's a first step," said Smith. "I hope to see voluntary installation of sprinklers to begin with, and I hope to move toward a mandatory ordinance for residential sprinklers."
Smith said the town may offer incentives to homebuilders who install sprinklers, such as waiving certain town fees. Some builders, like Tim Clark of Clark and Collins Builders, have expressed interest in voluntary sprinkler installation.
Wrightsville Beach's organized effort to educate stakeholders loosely follows a model set by Fire Team U.S.A--a traveling workshop series conducted by National Fire Sprinkler Association staffers that will be in 12 cities this year--designed to educate community leaders about the benefits of residential sprinklers and instruct them in ways to get public support to adopt local sprinkler ordinances.
Smith said he consulted Fire Team's web site and used information from the National Fire Protection Association and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and others in preparing for the meeting.