Sprinklers always a tough sell, company exec says

Saturday, January 1, 2005

CHICAGO - For Barry Waterman, president of Acme Sprinkler Service Co. based here, fire sprinklers are an important life safety measure that is often overlooked due to the supposed cost of installation and equipment.

And with the recent LaSalle Bank fire (See related story above) happening here in December, the conversation of fire systems seems to be on the minds of both citizens and lawmakers.

In his experience, when it comes time to decide on fire sprinklers, building owners figure that fire is not a real risk. And, with a preconceived notion that such systems are cost prohibitive, they first ask if fire sprinklers are required. When they find out sprinklers are not, some then decide not to invest the money.

“That’s the moron mentality our industry runs into,” he said.

But when you look at the consequences of not installing sprinklers, the expense seems minimal, he said. He points out that the loss of life has no price attached to it. In addition, once a fire hits, as was the case at the LaSalle building, the business was shut down for more than a week, with little or no access permitted into the building.

“The terrible fires never have sprinklers,” observed Waterman.

The fire sprinkler market has come a long way for this industry veteran. Looking back 20 years, Waterman finds that the annual sale of sprinkler heads within the United States has doubled to 40 million.

“We’re making progress,” he said. “I hear the word sprinklers a lot more.”

Even with the city of Chicago starting this month to require fire sprinklers in all commercial high-rise buildings, Waterman does not plan to travel door-to-door to promote his company and its services.

“I’ve never made a cold call because nobody wants it unless they have to,” he said. “You can’t drum up business.”