Sprinklers part of building plan?

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen met with some of the Bridgton Planning Board members last week to discuss the issue of sprinkler systems and at what point they may be required in subdivisions and possibly other residential construction in town.

Planning Board Chairman Donald “Steve” Collins said that a couple of years ago the selectmen organized a few workshops specifically to discuss residential sprinkler systems and whether or not the town would come up with its own regulations for them.

“At that time, the State Fire Marshal’s Office said it would formulate a set of standards (for statewide use),” Collins stated, “and we said, ‘Why are we wasting our breath?’ But then, the bottom fell out of the (real estate) market and we (the planning board) haven’t heard from any subdivisions (developers) since. Now, the (Bridgton) fire chief said the State (Fire Marshal’s Office) has pulled back on (formulating the sprinkler regulations).”

Collins told the selectmen he would like them to “organize some format like that” — the former workshop approach — that would include the selectmen, planning board, fire department and members of the public.

“I really think it will be a great help to the town and developers,” Collins stated.

Fire Chief Glen Garland explained that the State of Maine has adopted the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC), but excluded the section dealing with sprinkler systems.

“The 2009 IRC adopted by the state has the entire sprinkler system code in it,” Chief Garland said, “but when it went to the state for adoption, they said they were taking the rest (of the codes and adopting them) but were putting this one (relating to sprinkler systems) aside, and they can’t put it back in (the adopted code) for three years. They may come back in three years and say, ‘We’re going to put this back in, due to this, this and this.’”

“The state would probably adopt (the sprinkler system regulation), in 2013,” Chief Garland said further. “As Steve said, this issue was brought forward by a proposed subdivision expansion request at the December planning board meeting. Also, as Steve said, it would be very easy for the town to say, ‘Everything has to be sprinkled, across the board.’”

However, no one at the meeting stated that they think the across the board approach is a practical one.

Both the fire chief and planning board chairman said they would like to have a committee set up that would hold workshop sessions on sprinkler system regulations.

“I think we could get a committee together, to see what other towns have done, see what’s good for our community and what to do,” Chief Garland said.

Selectman Earl Cash said he was playing the “devil’s advocate” when he cautioned that the town should go forward very carefully in the matter of whether or not to require subdivisions and/or residential construction to have sprinkler systems — he also addressed the issue of those locations that would have access to a main source of water and those “off the beaten path.”

“We never had much luck with (requiring) fire ponds (in subdivisions),” Selectman Cash said. “They were not taken care of, and there was often a question of who owned them.”

“But, if we, as the town, say they must have this, it’s the Big Brother thing, sort of,” said Cash. “There are two different prices here — those on a water main and ones not — because, again, once we do this and step into it, we want to give people the best fire protection we can. But, if we require some to have this and this…I think we need something middle of the road, where people can absorb it within reason.”

“That’s why I think it’s good to have a committee — with the selectmen, planning board, fire department and the public — to come up with a fair, consistent standard across the board for everybody,” stated Chief Garland. “That way, developers would know what the cost is up front. Right now, we don’t have that.”

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said the issue of sprinkler systems needs to be looked “not piecemeal, but on a larger scale.”

“I think, quite frankly, Glen and the planning board might want to take leadership and come back and update us,” said Berkowitz. “They could try to make a codified regulation that works well for the planning board and that works well for the code enforcement officer.”

“I don’t think this can just be (a regulation) for subdivisions,” Selectman Woody Woodward said.

“And, that’s part of the discussion we had,” said Garland. “That’s the thing we struggle with — how far from a dry hydrant (can a structure be) before we require another water supply? So everybody’s treated the same.”

Selectman Doug Taft asked if a sprinkler system regulation adopted, at some point, by the town, would be retroactive.

“I certainly am not going to ask for it to be retroactive,” the fire chief said. “What’s built is built.”

Selectmen Chairman Arthur Triglione said he favors the town manager’s suggestion.

“This could be a joint effort put forward by the planning board and fire department with a committee working with them and one member of the board of selectmen,” Triglione stated.

“At our next meeting — a workshop session — we’ll discuss this and we’ll come back,” said Collins.

In order to avoid the issue of whether a quorum (three of the five selectmen and/or three of five planning board members) is present at a public meeting other than the board of selectmen’s meetings, Berkowitz suggested that the committee to review sprinkler system regulations be comprised of one selectman, two planning board members and two members of the Bridgton Fire Department, as well as members of the public.

“I think it’s good to have someone from the public on the committee who will come in with different ideas,” Fire Chief Garland said.

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