The more I study sprinkler systems, the more I agree that no sprinkler has ever saved a life. I also agree that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Following this premise, it isn’t sprinklers that save lives, it’s the active protection they provide when installed by responsible builders that saves lives.

In addition, it’s the proactive town leaders who see the value of sprinklers, and the valuable time that sprinklers give to well-trained firefighters, that save lives.

Firefighters, fire instructors, fire chiefs and other emergency service personnel all over Maine know our state is at a critical crossroads.

After several years of volunteer time, the Technical Building Codes and Standards Board will soon decide the rules for establishment and implementation of Maine’s first Uniform Building & Energy Code (MUBEC).

At last Monday’s public hearing regarding the MEBUC, we heard a variety of comments from builders, insurance agents, Realtors and fire service personnel.

Most spoke either for or against sprinklers, and sadly, the proposed rules and standards do not include sprinklers and the active protection they could provide.

But on a slightly brighter note, the proposed standards do provide an opportunity for passive fire protection. The safety of Maine’s homeowners, and the firefighters protecting them, depends on the adoption of passive fire protection systems in the MUBEC; and Maine’s fire services community needs the help of homeowners, builders, insurance agents and Realtors who know the value of these systems.

For homeowners and those thinking of building or purchasing a home, here’s a quick lesson on fire protection systems.

Active fire protection systems are designed into homes to work directly on a flame or fire. Sprinklers are the best active fire protection system a homeowner can request and a builder install. Active fire protection systems work best in concert with passive fire protection systems. Passive fire protection systems are systems which work to notify occupants or authorities that a fire is occurring, such as working smoke detectors and fire alarms. In addition, when constructed as part of home design, passive fire protection systems work to prevent the spread of fire throughout the home by utilizing fire stops and draftstopping techniques.

Why passive fire protection is vitally important is because modern construction practices involve the use of lightweight floor and ceiling assemblies.

These assemblies, along with most unprotected wood floor and ceiling components, fail quickly when exposed to heat and flames. Fueling these fires is also that fact that modern insulating practices and home furnishings contain synthetics and plastics which release more heat when burned than items used in homes decades ago. Research from Underwriters Laboratory and grants from national fire science programs have determined assembly construction components combined with higher and faster heat release rates lead to rapidly developing untenable conditions for occupants, faster fire spread from the room of fire origin, and floors and ceilings that quickly collapse.

As a very active state fire instructor, I wish the citizens of Maine knew how much training firefighters go through in order to be prepared to save your life and property. We are working hard to keep pace with changing construction technologies, but the reality is even the best firefighting tactics combined with a fire department’s capacity to respond are often outpaced by the rapid fire development of lightweight construction and modern furnishings. Modern homes and their furnishings are very efficiently “built to burn.”

Uncontrolled rapid fire growth creates a deadly environment for anyone in the home. If active and passive fire protection systems are not in place, everything within their walls is explosively consumed by fire within a matter of minutes. The inclusion of functional passive fire protection systems in Maine’s new building standards will give firefighters a chance to save your life and the lives of your family and pets. These systems will work to help hold a fire from spreading and give responding firefighters the optimal chance for saving your belongings, treasured items, and possibly your home. If you are a homeowner, builder, insurance agent, or Realtor who knows the value of active and passive fire protection systems, the firefighters of Maine would appreciate your support.

Written comments on the MUBEC are due Aug. 5, and can be sent to attention: Dick Dolby, DPS Bureau of Building Codes and Standards, SHS #165, Augusta, ME 04333-0165.


– Special to the Press Herald