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“One sprinkler head is going to save a life”: Fire officials reignite push for mandatory home sprinklers

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A recent fire in Uptown Harrisburg could have cost a family much more than minor water damage if it did not have a sprinkler system installed in their home.

The fire, which occurred on 5th Street, ended up costing the family inside $174.90 in damages, according to Harrisburg Bureau of Fire Chief Brian Enterline. No one was hurt, and the family was able to move back inside later the same day.

If there were no sprinklers in place, Enterline said, smoke damage would have cost the family anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000, not to mention the potential for injury or even loss of life.

"The water damage you see in your living room when you have a small fire put out by that sprinkler is far, far better than having your entire home consumed and your family taken away," Enterline said.

He and other state fire officials have started a new push to make sprinkler systems mandatory in all homes across the state. Harrisburg is ahead of the curve, so to speak. Current city codes say all high-rise and multiple unit apartments must be equipped with sprinkler systems, and all new townhouses must have sprinklers installed as well.

Statewide, all structures except single family homes are required to have sprinkler systems. On January 1, 2011, a law was enacted mandating sprinklers in all future homes, single family and otherwise. However, a new state legislature wrote a bill designed to reverse that law shortly thereafter, and Governor Tom Corbett signed Act 1 of 2011 in April.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association lobbied hard against the mandate, according to Enterline, arguing against the increased costs in putting sprinkler systems in all homes. There has been no legislation since designed to make sprinklers mandatory in all houses once again.

"We don't care who makes the money, if its a builder or sprinkler contractor," Enterline said. "What we know is one sprinkler head is going to save a life and I don't know what price you put on that."