Town debates easing sprinkler rules

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

WHEELING, Ill. - A debate is underway in this Chicago suburb on easing fire sprinkler regulations in a town that has been considered progressive on the issue since it passed its first major residential fire ordinance nine years ago.

The town’s residential fire ordinance passed in 1996, which required new townhouses to include fire sprinklers, and it later passed a detached home ordinance in 1999, which required single family homes and mobile homes to install sprinklers. At the time the town passed its residential sprinkler ordinance, only two other towns within the state had already done so.

Fire sprinklers have been a hot topic in this part of the country since last fall, when a county-operated, high-rise building caught fire and resulted in numerous deaths.

The board of trustees of the town has proposed eliminating rules that require all new homes to have sprinklers and those residences that expand through remodeling projects beyond  110   percent. Wheeling is an eight- and one-half square-mile, working class community with 40,000 residents.

Dean S. Argiris is one of six trustees on the board and he opposes the requirement for sprinklers in new single family homes. “If it’s such a great thing, the state of Illinois should mandate it,” he said.

“This is an ongoing saga with this ordinance and we should be giving people a choice,” said Argiris, who initially introduced the notion to drop the requirement. He, like the other trustees, is up for re-election next April.

As the board debates the cost of installing the systems, the fire chief of the town asked how much is too much to spend on saving lives.

“It works out to be less than a pack of gum per day for sprinklers,” said Fire Chief Keith McIsaac. He estimates that it costs about $2 per square foot to add a sprinkler to a home and between $2 and $5 per square foot for commercial and industrial locations.

“I think what you have here is some homegrown people who think they own the town,” said Tom Lia, executive director on the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. NIFSAB supports Chief McIsaac’s efforts to fight the board.

McIsaac doesn’t foresee a protracted fight over the issue. As the April board election nears, he predicts action within the next 45 to 60 days, then silence on the issue. “The thing driving this train is time and elections,” said McIsaac.