Saving lives or saving money?
By Mark Reaman
Fire suppression sprinkler systems will continue to be required for Crested Butte townhomes in triplexes. The Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to reject not requiring sprinklers in certain townhouse situations. Not requiring the sprinklers would have saved the upcoming Crested Butte affordable housing project in Paradise Park about $262,000.
The issue has been discussed several times in the last two months and each time the council has not found a majority vote to exempt triplexes from the sprinkler requirement.
When the issue first came up in January, staff recommended extending the exemption for sprinkler systems currently allowed in certain duplexes to triplexes. But a February 4 vote ended in a 3-3 tie, thus denying the exemption. Two weeks ago it was brought up again and the council was clearly split, with the majority not in favor of the exemption but open to another public hearing. On March 18 the staff recommended rejecting the exemption and the council did so 7-0 after 25 minutes of public comment.
The public hearing opened with town community development director Michael Yerman saying, “We plan on putting the sprinkler systems in the affordable triplex units and moving forward. We recommend you deny [the exemption].”
Rob Geislinger of the National Fire Sprinkler Association attended the council meeting in support of the Crested Butte Fire Protection District position of keeping the sprinkler requirement. “The reality is that sprinkler systems do cost but they come with great benefits,” he said.
Local resident Marty Graves advocated for the systems as well. “Saving lives is more important than saving money,” she said.
Local builder Crockett Farnell told the council the town is a tinderbox, given how close together the buildings can be. “The value of sprinklers can’t be overstated,” he said. “It is a legitimate means of saving lives and property.”
Citizen John Wirsing said while he could not argue against the data that sprinklers saved lives in the broad picture, the requirement was one more regulation that added costs to housing. “How many people have been killed in triplexes in Crested Butte? Are they safer with sprinklers? Yes. But are buildings constructed now safer than those built ten years ago? Probably. The affordable aspect of affordable housing is being killed by a thousand cuts and this is one more cut. You can have only so many air bags in a car.”
CBFPD fire marshal Ric Ems replied to Wirsing stating that new construction relies more on synthetic products that burn much quicker than construction materials of the past and fires also result in toxic gases being released by construction products and items such as furniture.
“The council’s duty is to protect the health and safety of the constituents,” said citizen Jim Starr. “I second the need for safety with these units.”
“One of our jobs as council is to look at every issue from every angle,” said councilman Chris Haver, who had asked for the reconsideration of the issue. “There is no doubt that sprinklers save lives and I appreciate all the information people sent to us in that regard.”
In the end, the council voted unanimously to go with the staff recommendation and to not exempt triplexes from requiring fire repression sprinkler systems as part of construction.