Installers turn political

Thursday, September 1, 2005

GOODYEAR, Ariz.--Upcoming votes in two Arizona cities have prompted Don Dews and Chuck Sullivan, owners of residential fire sprinkler installation businesses, to become political activists.
Last January, the city councils of Avondale and Goodyear overwhelmingly approved laws to require the installation of sprinklers in all new residential construction. The Home Builders Association of Central Arizona subsequently organized successful petition drives in both cities to bring the question before the voters. (See related story on page 27.)
On September 13, Avondale and Goodyear residents will decide at the polls whether sprinkler systems should be required in the communities' ever-growing count of newly built homes
Avondale's populations grew from 35,000 in 1990 to 60,000 today and it's still growing, said Avondale Vice Mayor Betty Lynch. Goodyear has 45,000 residents, but expects close to 400,000 in 20 years, said Rob Antoniak, a Goodyear city councilor.
Chuck Sullivan and his wife, Cindy, own Trinity Fire Protection in Goodyear, a 12-employee family business. On recent weekend mornings, Sullivan and several employees have stood at local businesses handing out leaflets that explain the benefits of fire sprinklers.
This month, Sullivan and his employees will wear T-shirts around town that read, "Sprinklers save lives."
"I've never done this before, but I feel like now is the time to be proactive. I've been in this business for a long time and I believe with all my heart that sprinkler systems save lives and I want to go out and let people know that," Sullivan said.
Over the past 20 years, Don Dews, a native of Avondale, has built Dews Fire Protection into a 20-person operation. Like Sullivan, he's trying to convince people to support the referendum.
He participated in a fire sprinkler demonstration covered by local print and broadcast media. And, Dews is spreading the word among other fire industry folks.
"I was talking to a group of suppliers last night. We may be trying to raise some money for newspaper ads to inform the public about this," he said.
Dews and Sullivan acknowledge that their businesses stand to benefit from the passage of the referenda. Cindy Sullivan guessed that if both referendums passed, their business would double. However, Dews and Sullivan, point to statistics from the city of Scottsdale, which has had a mandate in place for 20 years, to support their claim that sprinklers save lives.
They note that the real experts--city fire officials--also favor the mandate. Unfortunately for supporters, however, city charters prevent employees such as the fire chief from speaking out and expressly advocating for the mandate, however.
While he likens the current referendum to an uphill, David-and-Goliath-type battle, Goodyear city councilor Antoniak predicts passage of the Goodyear and Avondale referendums.
Avondale vice-mayor Lynch is cautiously optimistic about the outcome. The HBACA is a powerful opponent, but the referendums have received a lot of attention, Lynch said. Many people understand that sprinklers save the lives of residents and firefighters, she said, and supporters, like Dews and Sullivan, are successfully getting their message out, she added.