Camas City Council approves mandatory fire sprinkler ordinance

A vote by the City Council on Monday made Camas the first city in Southwest Washington to have an ordinance requiring that fire sprinkler systems be installed in all newly constructed one- and two-family residential homes.

The new rule applies only to new construction and does not require the retrofitting of any existing dwellings. Exempt from the law are mobile homes and manufactured homes.

During a public hearing, Camas resident Mark Sundeth spoke in favor of the ordinance. He moved into his new home, outfitted with a sprinkler system, in May 2015.

“The only place that sprinkler systems all go off at once is the TV and movies,” Sundeth said, addressing some of the misconceptions about residential fire sprinklers. “These are designed to go off one at a time, only in the area needed, for the time allotted.”

Although there was no verbal testimony against the ordinance during last night’s public hearing, a letter opposing it was submitted by State Rep. Liz Pike, Building Industry Association of Clark County President Tracy Doriot, Clark County Association of Realtors President John Blom and Oregon and Southwest Washington Burglar and Fire Alarm Association President AJ Gomez.

The letter argues that the cost of installing a residential fire sprinkler system would exacerbate the issues surrounding the shortage of affordable housing. According to the BIA’s research, the cost for a residential fire sprinkler system in a home “could total more than $10,000.”

The BIA’s numbers, however, differ from those cited by CWFD officials.

Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher has said in Camas the cost ranges from $1.25 to $1.50 per square foot.

Sundeth testified that the cost to install the sprinkler system in his $280,000, 2,451 square foot home was approximately $2,000.

These are not an expensive item to install,” he said, adding that he has captured savings on his insurance premiums due to the presence of the sprinklers.

According to city officials, even without this ordinance in place Camas already has one of the highest rates in the state of fire sprinkler installation in new residential construction.

“We manage to get fire sprinklers installed mandatorily in almost all new construction because of our fire code,” said Fire Chief Nick Swinhart during the March 7 City Council workshop. “It has to do with certain things like access to water, access and egress to fire vehicles and road width.”

Other Washington cities with fire sprinkler ordinances include Olympia, Bonney Lake, DuPont, Kenmore, Redmond and Tukwila.

“Fire sprinklers are a tool that we’ve seen work,” Schumacher said.