Firefighters push for mandatory sprinkler installation for new buildings

BOSTON — In a matter of seconds, a side-by-side demonstration in Quincy shows the impact of having fire sprinklers in a home versus a home without them.

"Just think if this were your living room and you were trying to get out," the demonstrator says at the sprinkler-less room goes up in flames.

Fall River Fire Lieutenant Paul Machado doesn't have to imagine. It happened to him while fighting a fire at a home without sprinklers. Lt. Machado says he had little choice but to jump out a window.

"It's pure instinct," he said. "I would rather jump and take whatever chances I have than to burn to death because it was excruciating."

He's now using his close call to try to influence lawmakers to adopt regulations forcing home builders to put sprinklers in all new homes.

The National Fire Protection Agency, based in Massachusetts, says there is a federal law.

"But it's up to the states and jurisdictions to adopt that particular requirement," NFPA CEO Jim Pauley said. "That's what needs to happen. They need to make it a requirement for new construction."

The NFPA estimates that only one out of every ten house fires has a working fire sprinkler. And if a home has sprinklers, they say the likelihood of dying in a fire drops by 85 percent.

"The goal would be to have working smoke detectors and sprinklers in every home," Mass. Deputy Fire Marshal Maribel Fournier said. "It's a minimal cost. It's less than putting granite countertops in your home, so that would be ideal."

But the National Home Builder's Association says an overwhelming majority of home buyers say the systems aren't worth the added expense. But officials hope the side-by-side images change that.

Only California and Maryland require sprinklers in all new one and two-family homes.

The NFPA is trying to get Massachusetts to join that list by pushing new legislation in the state house.