Rock Island fire sprinkler policy stirs controversy with builders

ROCK ISLAND - Rock Island is generating controversy with local builders by enforcing a policy that requires a sprinkler system for new homes or major remodeling projects.

"Fire deaths are not decreasing at the rate we'd like to see," said Fire Marshal Greg Marty, on Friday, January 26.  "This is really the most effective step you can take to protect your family."

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Marty points to 17 recent fire deaths within 60 miles of the Quad Cities.

While some recent homes included sprinklers before the ordinance, builders say it will discourage new construction in Rock Island.

"A fire sprinkler costs $6-8,000," said Scott Webster, QCBR vice president.  "If they can build that in Moline for $6,000 or $7,000 cheaper four blocks away, why wouldn't you?"

Rock Island already lags behind new housing starts in the Quad Cities.  But the fire marshal says that price will save lives down the road.

"We do recognize there is an added cost," Marty said.  "We think it's very minimal, and we feel that the benefit far outweighs the added cost."

Builders say they weren't consulted about the changes. They also say that the mandatory policy will discourage renovations of existing homes.

"If you live in Rock Island and do a remodeling project, it's up to their discretion," Webster said.  "They may make you put the sprinklers on your home."

While everyone wants safe homes, this policy is generating controversy in Rock Island.

"The success rates are staggering," Marty concluded.  "There's many places in the country that have had this in effect for up to 30 years, and they see virtually zero fire deaths."