Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on March 1, 2019.

Safety Incentives

In Maine, a champion of home fire sprinklers demonstrates that incentivizing sprinkler installation can take many forms

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Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, famously said that “all politics is local.” We can expand that by saying, “all fire prevention is local.”

Case in point is Chief Robert Lefebvre of Gorham, Maine, winner of this year’s Bringing Safety Home Award. Sponsored by NFPA and the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), the award recognizes fire sprinkler advocates who use HFSC and NFPA resources to educate decision makers about home fire sprinklers and to convince them to support sprinkler requirements at the local, state, or provincial level.

Through various initiatives, Chief Lefebvre has championed the lifesaving benefits of sprinklers for more than 20 years. He was one of the first to offer incentives for fire sprinkler installation in new subdivisions by allowing builders to use sprinklers as alternatives to costly fire ponds or dry hydrants. His staunch advocacy for fire sprinklers led to a town-wide ordinance, passed in October 2018, mandating the installation of fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes. During deliberations on the ordinance, Lefebvre held informative workshops and worked with the town council to prove the case that sprinklers are effective at saving lives, preventing injuries, and reducing property loss. Since the ordinance passed, more than 200 homes in Gorham have been sprinklered.

While all model codes, including all NFPA building codes and standards, now mandate the inclusion of home fire sprinklers in new construction, widespread installation of sprinklers has been repeatedly thwarted by powerful and well-funded opposition from the homebuilding industry. Chief Lefebvre is an example of a growing cadre of champions who are working to reduce home-fire loss by acting locally. These local crusaders are making a difference. Last year, at least a half-dozen communities around the country passed home fire sprinkler requirements for new construction, including Gorham and Dayton, Maine; Washougal, Washington; Las Vegas, Nevada; and two towns in Illinois, bringing the number of communities in that state with home fire sprinkler requirements to 105.

In these communities and in many others considering sprinkler requirements, local advocates are finding innovative ways to show the life- and property-saving value of sprinklers. These include efforts to provide developers with added incentive to install sprinklers in new construction by giving them something in return. Among the many locally negotiated incentives for homebuilders who install sprinklers are street-width reductions, which can substantially reduce the amount of pavement needed; longer dead-end streets, which may result in more buildable lots; increased hydrant spacing; additional units permitted; and approval for homes to be built closer together.

Although the idea of providing homebuilders with tradeoffs to incentivize sprinkler installation isn’t new, the practice is not widely known, understood, or used, according to a recent HFSC survey of builders, authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), and others. The survey found that few builders were aware of incentives but would be interested if they were offered. Few AHJs had heard of incentives or knew they could offer them. To help, the HFSC has created a toolkit of resources for AHJs, builders, and others, which includes incentive case studies and videos that communities can use to better understand how the process works. There is even one example of a developer saving $1 million by installing sprinklers. These resources can be found at

As Chief Lefebvre recognized, incentives have great potential to create safer communities and provide financial benefits to builders and developers. They are one of the ways local sprinkler advocates are making a difference in their communities to save lives and property through the use of home fire sprinklers.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Top Illustration: Michael Hoeweler