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I-Team: Homebuilders Push Texas Lawmakers To Block Fire Sprinkler Requirements

Author: Brian New

DALLAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) – When every second counts, a fire sprinkler system can be a live saver but most homes in North Texas do not have them.

The Texas State Fire Marshal says every home in Texas should have fire sprinklers but state lawmakers have refused to make it a requirement for new homes.

In fact, state lawmakers have made it illegal for Texas cities to mandate sprinklers be installed in all new single-family homes.

“The statistics tell the story,” said Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy. “No one has died in sprinkler occupancy nowhere in Texas.”

In 2008, the International Code Council decided every new American home should have fire sprinklers.

For 20 years, Texas adopted most of the council’s minimum recommendations but not this one.

Attached to a bill in 2009 about licensing plumbers, Texas lawmakers quietly put in a measure banning Texas cities from requiring sprinklers in new homes.

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Fire sprinkler advocates point the finger at the powerful homebuilders lobby for the reason sprinklers are not in every new home in Texas.

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Texas homebuilders and realtors spent more than $24 million in the past three years to lobby Texas lawmakers.

Homebuilders, however, say they are not against fire sprinklers. What they are fighting for is the freedom of homebuyers to choose.

Phil Crone, the president of the Dallas Builders Association, said “One of the main reasons people are moving (to North Texas) are not for our beaches and mountains, it’s because we have affordable housing.”

Adding fire sprinklers to a new home costs roughly $2 per square foot. For a new 3,000 square foot home, that increases the price by $6,000.

Crone said, “$6,000 can make a tremendous amount of difference. According to the Real Estate Center, for every thousand dollars you raise the price of a new home, 20,000 Texas families aren’t able to afford that new home.”

Fire officials say, much like air bags in vehicles, the extra expense to install sprinklers is worth it.

“The truth of the matter is these are life saving devices both for the public and the firefighters.” Plano Fire Marshal David Kerry said. “It’s worth everything. It’s worth your life and your materials. It’s worth your family.”

Plano Fire Dept. sprinkler demonstration (CBS11)

In May of 2015, firefighters made it to a Colleyville house fire in less than eight minutes.

However, in those short minutes, the fire had taken over much of the house.

Four people were inside when the fire started. Two made it out by the time firefighters arrived.

Former Colleyville mayor, John Andrews, 79, had mobility issues and did not make it out.

Neither did his grandson, Bobby Wayne O’Neal Jr., 32. Due to a prior brain injury from a car accident, O’Neal’s family said he had the mental capacity of a child.

Bobby O’Neal Jr. & Bobby O’Neal Sr. (O’Neal family)

O’Neal’s father, Bobby O’Neal Sr., said as soon as he got the call about the fire, he drove up from Waco to the scene as fast as he could.

When he arrived, O’Neal Sr. said he pleaded with firefighters to let him go inside to try to find his son.

“I asked one of the firemen to go up on the ladder upstairs where I knew my son would be,” O’Neal said fighting back tears. “Of course, they said it would be too dangerous to do that.”

O’Neal Sr. said prior to the fire he never thought about fire sprinklers but wishes he had.

“I fill like if it was mandatory, it would save a lot of lives,” O’Neal Sr. said. “It would have been a big aid that day in putting the fire down enough until the fire department could get it control. It might not have got so far out of hand.”

Every year in Texas, on average, 150 people die in fires.

Not one of those have ever died in a building that had a fire sprinkler system.

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