Washougal eyes fire sprinkler policy

Camas City Council passed similar ordinance in 2016 requiring sprinklers in new homes

Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher

Two years after the Camas City Council started requiring automatic fire sprinkler systems be installed in new homes, the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal is advocating that Washougal councilors approve a similar ordinance.

Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher said four Camas homes have been saved by the activation of sprinkler systems with minimal damage.

“There was some minor smoke and fire damage, and there was some water damage as well,” he said.

Camas-Washougal Deputy Fire Marshal Randy Miller said sprinkler systems helped firefighters control those four Camas house fires very early, keeping damage to the homes and to the homeowners’ possessions at a minimum.

In those incidents, Miller said firefighters shut off the water, set up exhaust fans to clear smoke from the house and “squeegeed a little water out the front door.”

Miller added that residents with fire sprinkler systems can occupy their homes the same day or within a few days of a fire, compared to homeowners without sprinklers, who lose many of their belongings and are typically out of their homes for several months to more than a year.

There are close to 2,500 homes with sprinkler systems in Camas and Washougal.

During a March 13 presentation to the Washougal Planning Commission, Schumacher talked about a 2017 Christmas Day fire in a Washougal non-sprinklered home that sustained smoke and heat damage. The residents plan to move back to that house in a few months.

“All their belongings will be either packed up and stored or tossed,” Schumacher said. “The house will have much of the sheetrock removed. New wiring, plumbing, insulation, doors, wood trim, floor coverings, cabinets, appliances and painting will have to be completed.”

The cost of having a residential fire sprinkler system in Camas is $1.35 to $1.45 per square foot. For a 1,500-square-foot house, that would add $2,100 to the cost of a new home, assuming a cost of $1.40 per square foot for the addition of fire sprinklers.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, residents are 80 percent more likely to survive a fire with a fire sprinkler system and fire sprinklers were effective in suppressing 98 percent of all fires in buildings with a fire sprinkler system.

The International Building Code and Fire Code already require fire sprinkler systems be installed in apartments and hotels.

A single sprinkler can serve a 16 foot by 16 foot area in a building.

“Sprinklers do save lives and property,” Schumacher said. “They have an excellent track record.”

Sprinkler heads have to be tested every 25 years.

Miller said the number of homes being built and sold in Camas has not slowed down since the fire sprinkler ordinance went into effect in 2016.

“Currently our office is being inundated with permits for new homes, and all are sprinklered,” he said.

In September of 2017, the American Fire Sprinkler Association honored Miller as “Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year” for his consistent efforts to ensure that fire sprinklers are installed in Camas homes.

The City of Camas issued building permits for construction of 235 new dwelling units in 2015, according to Camas Community Development Director Phil Bourquin. That increased to 238 in 2016 and 355 in 2017. The 2017 figure includes a 125-unit apartment complex at 3009 N.E. Third Ave.

Schumacher will provide fire sprinkler information during a Washougal City Council workshop on a date to be determined. That would be followed by a public hearing during a Washougal Planning Commission meeting. If the planning commission issues a formal recommendation for the approval of an ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in future homes in Washougal, the issue will be forwarded to the Washougal City Council and there would be another public hearing since it would involve a change to the municipal code.