A QUIET VICTORY

A QUIET VICTORY

EDITOR’S OPINION

On December 11, 1990 I sat in city hall listening to the final formalities that would mark passage of the ordinance amendment into law. What struck me at that moment was the calmness of the proceedings—there were no objections, there was no debate. Where were the jackals?

You’d think that requiring residential automatic sprinkler protection for all new lightweight wood truss construction in a growing city of 30,000 people would attract at least a few of the traditional proponents of the lightweight wood truss. Not so. They were conspicuously absent from this historic moment.

On Long Island’s North Shore, the City of Glen Cove listened and learned, invited testimony and viewed tapes. It did not turn away from the indisputable evidence. It decided that its firelighters were too important to sacrifice to a money-saving construction technique. Then it mandated sprinklers both within and below the truss voids of all new or modified homes built with lightweight truss construction. (The city ordinance is detailed on page 29.)

The credit for this achievement goes largely to Honorary Fire Commissioner George Barkan, Fire Chief Gerald Quinn, and Mayor Donald P. DeRiggi. Their energy, perseverance, progressiveness. and commitment to life safety made this fire service victory possible. Now the builders in the area are moving quickly to comply or forgo the truss entirely, and citizen groups are taking steps to retrofit their homes with automatic sprinkler systems. Positive action begets positive action.

But what about all that silence from the truss industry? This was an open forum —it was no secret. Their reaction—or lack of it —was strange, given their aggressive promotion and defense of their product just a couple of years ago. Remember the March/April Fire Journal article by Erwin L. Schaffer, a member of the wood products industry, trying to justify the position that the fire service is overreacting to the truss’s track record under actual fire conditions? That piece of propaganda and others that followed (mostly strongly worded letters attacking those who dared speak out against the truss) typified the truss industry’s aggressiveness. Yet in all the public hearings in Glen Cove leading up to the precedent-setting December 11 meeting, the truss people were nowhere to be found.

Has the wood truss industry had a change of heart? I doubt it. As Frank Brannigan says, “Did you ever see a builder at a fire department funeral?” Did they not hear about the Glen Cove ordinance? Possibly, but I doubt that as well. Are they scared? I think so. They need to draw attention to the Glen Cove ordinance like they need a hole in the head. The ordinance effectively steers builders away from using the wood truss. And if other cities hear about the success in Glen Cove, they might be tempted to try it themselves—meaning that the truss industry would stand to lose substantial revenues. As usual, economics—not conscience or ethics— presides over business decisions.

In any case, I’m taking this opportunity to salute all the people who made the Glen Cove precedent a reality. And I’m wanting as loud as I can to help make this more than a quiet victory. The City of Glen Cove has taken a giant step in decreasing the fatal fires of the future. Fire service, take note. It can be done. Seize the opportunity: Take the roads through your city and state governments and effect the end of the lightweight wood truss hazard.

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