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Should Indoor Sprinklers Be Mandatory For New Homes?

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An indoor sprinkler during a fire drill. (CBS)

An indoor sprinkler during a fire drill. (CBS)

Chris Martinez Chris Martinez
Chris Martinez is a general assignment reporter for CBS 2...
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(CBS) — It only takes seconds, for a fire to take everything.

Fire safety advocates like Tom Lia say sprinklers are the cure.

“This will save a life,” he tells CBS 2’s Chris Martinez.

Right now, more than 90 Illinois communities require sprinkler systems in new home construction. But the Illinois State Fire Marshal wants more, pushing for a sprinkler law that makes them mandatory in new homes statewide.

Alsip Mayor Patrick Kitching agrees, saying people don’t think a fire will ever happen to them.

A demonstration CBS 2 observed is meant to show how effective sprinklers are. Two identical rooms – one with a sprinkler, one without – were set on fire.

The room without the sprinkler did not fare well. Within 90 seconds, flames engulfed the room until a firefighter extinguished the flames. The contents of the room were a total loss.

The room with the sprinkler was effective in quashing its fire.

“We talk about thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries and we have the cure,” says Michael Figolah, assistant fire chief for Bartlett.

But in the view of some, there are other cures.

“Smoke detectors save lives, fire extinguishers save lives, different construction materials save lives,” says Brian Bernardoni of the Chicago Association of Realtors.

The group insists the cost of sprinklers could make home ownership unaffordable.

“Mandate, mandate, mandate — it doesn’t work, and we’re going to oppose it each and every time,” Bernardoni says.

“In my career, I’ve helped to carry out 11 people dead — I don’t want to do that,” Figolah says.

So how much does this cost? On average, a sprinkler system in a new home runs somewhere between $1 and $2 a square foot. The price goes up for an existing home — about $2 to $7 a square foot.

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