Carrol Valley Ruling
In 2004, Carrol Valley Borough (PA) passed an ordinance requiring all new single-family dwellings be protected with an automatic sprinkler system. In January of 2005, that decision was challenged to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, who upheld the Borough’s decision.
Labor and Industry Appeal
In his decision supporting the Borough, the Secretary of Labor and Industry, found:
The Ordinance at issue requires sprinkler systems installed on all new construction. Each home installed with a sprinkler system will require holding tanks to permit the continuous flow of water with pressure. For a 1,500 square foot home, the total cost for a sprinkler system will run less than $3,000.1
The Secretary, in addition to finding “…no public water supply, no fire hydrants, no municipal fire company and no volunteer fire company, and the risk of fire-related harm or death to residents in the Borough in the event of a residential fire,”2 found:
There can be no question that in the majority of circumstances, smoke alarms as required by the (International Residential Code) are a sufficient measure to protect against fire damage, both in terms of life and property. But that presupposes that fire , once detected, will be responded to quickly by local firefighters.3
Court of Common Pleas Appeal
It was then further challenged in the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County, who rendered a decision on the 14th of October 2005; this Court also upheld the Borough’s decision and for 13 years, sprinklers had been required in Carroll Valley Borough.
In finding for the Borough, the Honorable Michael A. George, presiding for the Court of Common Pleas, stated “I find no error with the Secretary’s conclusion concerning the ramifications and risk which local topographical conditions present to public safety.”4
The issue of topography and the time it takes to mount a valid fire department attack was the basis of the Borough’s adoption of the requirement for sprinklers. To re-quote the Secretary’s decision “…presupposes that fire, once detected, will be responded to quickly by local firefighters.”
The “presupposition” is that it is assumed that once a fire is detected and the fire company dispatched, that fire department will respond quickly to suppress the fire.
Whether due to topographical conditions, or the lack of a close-by fire company, at issue here is a “quick” fire department response and how the lack of a “quick” response can legally justify a sprinkler requirement. It has been upheld in court, but how does one define a “quick” response by the fire department?
NOTE: Unfortunately, in July of 2017, Borough Council repealed this 13-year-old requirement due to the objections of a couple of realtors. Borough Council held a hearing at Borough Hall, at which the local fire chiefs, a member of their planning board and the PA Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition implored them to keep the ordinance intact. Ignoring their fire experts, they repealed the ordinance.
1 Pennsylvania Builders Association, Builders Association of Adams County, Terry Stem d/b/a TLS Carpentry, Dannie W. Holsinger and Ann M. Holsinger and SHC, Inc. v. Carroll Valley Borough (2005).