November 1, 2004
In the past five months, fires in Scottsdale had the potential to take 24 lives and cause at least $5 mil lion in damages.
But they didn’t — namely because of the city’s 1986 ordinance making sprinkler systems mandatory in all new structures.
The numbers are from research Rural/Metro Fire Department compiles as a measure of how much sprinklers have saved in terms of lives and property damage, said Sandy Nygaard, a Rural/Metro spokeswoman.
Since May, there were nine sprinkler activations in Scottsdale homes, and four in commercial structures.
"We’ve had several families that may not have gotten out of the house alive," Nygaard said. "These people would potentially have died if they didn’t have a sprinkler system."
Scottsdale is the only city in the Valley to require all new residential developments to have an interior fire sprinkler system.
The calls are expected to keep coming with the colder weather and approaching holidays — a high fire season.
One of the more recent fires started in an apartment bathroom from a discarded cigarette, but sprinklers contained it to one unit. The Sept. 25 fire at the Ventana Apartments, 14015 N. 94th St., was in the evening, and had the potential for 10 deaths, displacing multiple residents and causing $5 million damage, compared with the actual estimate of $3,500, Nygaard said.
According to the Phoenix Fire Department, more than 6,000 people die in fires in the United States each year. As much as 90 percent of the deaths in residential fires could have been prevented by using sprinkler systems.
Sprinkler requirements vary by city. Mesa, Gilbert and Chandler in the East Valley and Goodyear and Peoria in the West Valley require sprinklers in all construction except residential. Tempe and Phoenix require sprinklers essentially in all new construction greater than 5,000 square feet.
A referendum to mandate residential sprinklers in Mesa failed in 2000. Builders offer sprinkler systems, but it’s voluntary.
"It’s usually no more than upgrading your carpets," said Mesa deputy fire chief Mary Cameli.
It’s not that the builders association opposes sprinklers, said Erin Patterson, deputy director of municipal affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, which includes the East Valley.
Depending on the area, mandatory sprinklers would add at least $3,000 per house in impact fees — a cost that likely would be passed on to the buyer, Patterson said.
Builders often offer sprinkler systems as an option to buyers, and Patterson said that’s the way it should remain.
"It’s all about consumer choice," Patterson said. "Sprinklers are usually an option; it’s up to the homeowner to buy them."