Saturday, January 17, 2015

New Minnesota Sprinkler Law Dismays Developers, Delights Firefighters - Part Duex

This is a reprint from an article written by SUSAN FEYDER, at the Star Tribune. We have presented this in two parts, but if you'd like to read the whole article now, click HERE. You can read part one from our post yesterday.

A state mandate requiring indoor sprinklers in new homes 4,500 square feet and larger goes into effect in January. Homebuilders are grumbling about the new rule, calling it costly and unnecessary. But fire officials welcome it as a measure of relief at a time when they are struggling to recruit and retain volunteers.

Help for firefighters

Fire officials differ on builders’ cost estimates for sprinklers and point out that over time homeowners can recoup the upfront expense through lower insurance premiums. They also say that while smoke alarms can alert homeowners, they don’t protect houses or belongings until firefighters arrive.

“There’s nothing worse than standing in the yard with an owner as they watch firefighters try to put a fire out that’s already fully involved — shooting out windows and doors — by the time we get there,” said Marilyn Arnlund, deputy fire marshal in Maple Grove.

Arnlund and other fire officials say modern homes are susceptible to fires that can spread quickly, mostly because of their lightweight wood ceiling trusses and floor joists. Open floor plans and petroleum-based construction materials and furnishings found in newer homes also contribute to fires that can burn hot and fast.

This summer, Chaska Fire Chief Tim Wiebe led city and state officials on a tour of a large house that was ravaged by a fire in late May. The occupants escaped unharmed, but the house was a total loss. The fire started in the attached garage and spread to the house, where it had a burst of combustion known as flashover.

“The furnishings, the kitchen cabinets, just vaporized,” Wiebe said. “We were very fortunate that nobody, including our firefighters, was in there.”

He said he’d like to see sprinklers in all homes because they provide a way to extinguish fires or keep them small. That’s important as departments like his cover a growing number of households even as it becomes more difficult to recruit and retain replacements for the stream of baby boomers now retiring.

Chaska’s fire department is supposed to have a staff of 44 but currently has a volunteer force of 35, Wiebe said. None of Maple Grove’s five stations is fully staffed, according to Arnlund.

In Eagan, where fire department staffing is at its lowest level since the late 1980s, the city is considering a plan to go from five stations — which it says it cannot fully staff — down to three. For now, it is bridging part of the gap in its volunteer force with a federal grant to fund some full-time, paid positions.

The Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View fire department also has used a federal grant to add a recruitment and retention coordinator. “We’re not understaffed now, but we can see we’re going to have turnover and want to get ahead of the curve,” said Maddison Zikmund, who has filled the position.

Zikmund said that even when there are enough volunteers, they’re not always in parts of town where they’re needed. “A lot of the people we get don’t live close enough to our stations,” he said.

As result, some cities are switching to duty crews, where volunteer firefighters are scheduled instead of being paid-on-call. Some communities are adding full-time paid positions. Both of those staffing models cost more.

Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhrasky believes the staffing challenges are part of larger change. “It used to be that volunteers would sign on and stay for 20 years, but we’re a lot more mobile now,” he said. “We just have to plan around it.”
Photo Courtesy of Star Tribune
Contributed by Matt Werneke a Real Estate professional at RE/MAX Lakes Area Realty in Crosslake. Call our office at 218-692-9938 and talk to Matt about your Real Estate needs. You may also visit Matt's website at for more information…and, Matt wants you to know: “I am never too busy for your referrals”.