Germantown, Tennessee, sprinkler ordinance for one-family residences survives challenge

Germantown, Tennessee, sprinkler ordinance for one-family residences survives challenge

Builders of a proposed senior-citizen housing “district” in Germantown, Tennessee, failed in their attempt to have the city council there revise a requirement of a 1990 residential sprinkler ordinance as it pertained to one-family structures. Under the ordinance, all structures in the development were to be sprinklered, since they would be built only seven feet apart. The ordinance stipulates that structures constructed less than 20 feet from each other must be sprinklered.

The builders sought the exemption on the basis of cost. They estimated that it would cost more than $10,000 per home to install the sprinkler systems. Other arguments they used were that installation costs would be higher and insurance costs would rise as a result of damages caused by freezing sprinkler pipes.

Fire Chief Dennis Wolf opposed changing the ordinance`s requirement for sprinklering each unit. He researched the topic and obtained documented information from Operation Life Safety that would counter the builders` arguments. He voiced his objections in a presentation before the city council at a council study session. He was assisted in his efforts by the local senior citizens organization, which is very active, has a high profile in the community, and viewed the ordinance change as a safety threat. “The seniors were vociferous about the issue and were wearing stickers,” noted Wolf.

The 1990 comprehensive fire sprinkler ordinance was adopted to maintain a reasonable level of life and property safety while reducing the impact on fire department resources. Three firefighters generally respond on an apparatus in Germantown. Factors such as the building area, building height, access to hydrants, and fire department access roadways were also considered.

At a meeting held two weeks after the study session, the council voted two to one not to amend the ordinance. “The ordinance was still intact,” Wolf reported.

Sources: OLS Newsletter,Vol. 12, No. 7, July 1997; phone interviews with Chief Dennis Wolf.

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