Everyone welcome at Fire Team's table

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

PLEASANT VIEW, Tenn.--To get residential sprinkler mandates passed, members of Fire Team USA, a coalition of sprinkler advocates, say it's vital to have stakeholders like Tish Manning involved in discussions from the beginning.
Manning, of Holt Development, a residential and commercial building company here, was working with city officials on zoning requirements for a residential development when she saw a video about residential sprinklers and "decided right then and there to be an advocate for residential fire sprinklers," she said.
Noting that she's the mother of two young children, Manning said sprinklers bring peace of mind to homeowners. Builders who object to sprinkler mandates often have qualms about costs, she said. Yet, "It's only about $1 per square foot for installation, and that's less than a carpet allowance. And when it comes to insurance, having sprinklers can save you up to 25 percent."
"It's not only a life safety issue, it's a marketing tool [for builders] as well," she said.
Holt Development is in the second phase of a 700-home development here. All of the homes will be sprinklered. Manning was also helpful in getting a sprinkler ordinance passed here about two years ago.
Vicki Pritchett, now associate director of public fire protection for the National Fire Sprinkler Association and member of Fire Team USA, was the city official who showed Manning the video several years ago. Pritchett joined Fire Team USA in January; she's part of a four-person group that travels the country to educate communities about residential sprinklers.
At these meetings, public policy makers, fire chiefs, building officials, water purveyors and fire marshals should be at the table, she said.
They inevitably become advocates, Pritchett said. "What happens is that the sprinkler mandate becomes part of a community plan, not just part of the fire plan for the community," she said.
And often, someone from the non-fire side, someone like Manning, emerges as a champion in the cause, she said.
Fire Team USA will visit Countryside, Ill., and Baltimore, Md., this month; Orlando in September; Waterville Valley, N.H., in October; and Portland, Ore., in November. Other team members include Jim Dalton, NFSA director of Public Fire Protection, Wayne Waggoner, Southeast regional manager for NFSA, and Shane Ray, Pleasant View Fire Chief.
Ray piloted the idea for an advocacy group with Fire Team Tennessee in 2005. Fire Team USA was formed, with funds from an Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program administered by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, earlier this year.
The team compiles statistics about their efforts. "We do pre- and post-conference surveys," Shane said. Getting ordinances passed takes many months, but Fire Team research shows that communities they've visited are making progress toward adopting sprinkler mandates, he said.