Sprinkler systems bill clears Budget Committee

TRENTON – “Please consider what it really truly means to be burned.’’ So said a representative today of the St. Barnabas Burn Center.

The longstanding contentious issue of mandating sprinklers in new single- and two-family homes was before the Senate Budget Committee today.

As has happened during previous hearings, the issues came down to cost vs. safety.

S2273 requires fire suppression systems in new single- and two-family homes.  The bill passed 10-3 with Republican Sens. Anthony Bucco, Joseph Pennacchio and Kevin O’Toole voting no.

The companion, A1570, passed in the Assembly already.

One provision that was removed and then reinstated involves so-called manufactured homes such as trailers.  The bill now says that such homes are exempt but only if they are not connected to a public water system.

Testimony from a variety of witnesses estimated that the cost of a new home’s sprinkler could add approximately $5,000 to the price.

“I can’t believe that we are sitting here talking about $5,000,’’ said Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, after hearing testimony about the added costs due to sprinklers’ inclusion in new homes.  “I see houses in Union City right now that are two-family houses going to three-family houses. Sprinkler systems save lives just as smoke detectors do. At least it gives the firemen a fighting chance when they arrive on the scene.”

Sen. Anthony Bucco said “We are just starting to see our building industry come back again,’’ and he said the cost added for inclusion of sprinklers in new single-family construction can be prohibitive, and it should remain a personal choice rather than a mandate. He said he had no problem regarding multifamily homes.

One witness cut through the dollars and cents.

Eileen Byrne of St. Barnabas Burn Center said that “I hear all these numbers,’’ and asked the legislators to consider this: “I see the end result of a fire.  I see the end result every single day.”

She said the only way she can describe the screams of fire victims is as “a visceral howl.”

“Please consider what it really truly means to be burned,’’ she said.

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