RAWLINS – Throughout the course of the year Rawlins Fire Chief John Rutherford has presented several tragic facts and home-hitting examples in the hopes of convincing the city to adopt International Building Code, which would require prospective home builders to install sprinkler systems in any new residential structures.
In this time period, Rutherford has expressed the grave risks in allowing a home to not have protections, saying increases in incurred costs, total home loss and fatalities occur when a residential fire combusts. He’s also highlighted the long-term cost savings attached to insurance premiums as well damage prevention.
Earlier this fall, he even did a side-by-side demonstration, where two mock living rooms were placed right in front of city hall on downtown Cedar Street. One had sprinklers, while the other didn’t.
And when deliberately lit aflame, within moments the controlled burn scorched the sprinkler-less living room to an unrecognizable crisp. Once the sprinklers engaged in the other living room, it still looked seemingly good enough for a Sunday football party.
Among all the reasons to adopt, however, the city still does not have a residential system requirement in the books. The council, in fact, has so far struck down every proposal Rutherford has made, including late last year and early this year.
Last week’s city council meeting turned out to be a little more promising for the added fire protection. City leaders approved on the first reading an amendment requiring that all new residential structures have sprinkler systems installed before construction completion.
According to Rutherford, the code was at one point followed and enforced by the city. A little more than a decade ago, however, it was decided to exempt construction from international code.
He said, “By exempting the sprinkler requirement” the city has “ruined the key element” in allowing open construction floor plans, reduced fire-rated doors for compartmentalization and light weight truss usage for roofs and doors.
“Sprinklers were the one key element that made this construction method safe,” Rutherford said.
One local family, the Carnes, even spoke to the council about their experience of losing their home to a fire this past summer. According to Michelle Carnes, their Rawlins home, which did not have a sprinkler system in place, caught fire because of a simple malfunction of a household item.
“A lightbulb is what caused the fire,” she said.
Once the interior smoked away, three children were inside; however, in response they quickly managed to get ahold of the neighbor. But, by the time a bucket of water was gathered, it was too late. The house would sustain hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, the Carnes were displaced and three of their pets were dead.
“There was a perfect outline of one of my kittens where it had passed away,” Carnes said. “That could’ve been one of my children.”
And under the current code, Carnes’ home was up to snuff.
“My building was built to code. People of the city signed off on the electrical, they signed off the drywall and how it was installed,” she said. “Everything that needed to be done was done to code. That didn’t stop a lightbulb from failing and catching my home on fire.”
In response, some city leaders still worried that the requirement could add extra costs and in the process hinder future residential development. Although two Wyoming contractors have told Rutherford that they’d charge $1.50 or less per square foot, Mayor Steve Nicholson noted that that price may not always be a sure thing.
In some areas of Colorado, for example, he said prices are between $6-$7 per square foot.
“When you’re talking about a 2,400-square-foot home, you can get into a lot of dollars. And that’s what scares us as a council,” he said. “We don’t want to put undue burden on a homeowner that’s building a new home, that’s gonna build a $200,000 home then have to put in a $25,000 fire system on top of it.”
Nevertheless, Councilman DeBari Martinez motioned to pass the amendment on first reading, as Councilman Steve Sanger seconded and Nicholson voted in favor. Council members Aaron Durst and Jacquelin Wells voted against the motion.