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Fire Officials Worried About Possible Rules Change

A draft document on costs of fire alarm and sprinkler systems in Massachusetts could lead to a rollback in requirements in some multi-unit residential buildings, a group of concerned fire officials said Tuesday.

About 40 fire officials attended a meeting of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards in Wellesley to oppose the draft white paper, which examines the cost and effectiveness of fire systems in buildings with three to six units.

The board administers the state building code.

Critics say the paper singled out fire alarms and sprinklers as contributors to the high cost of housing in Massachusetts without providing evidence or taking into account the ability of sprinklers to save lives.

"The fire service believes this is the opening to look at code change proposals that may not have sprinklers or alarms," state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan told The Boston Globe.

There have been more than 30,000 fires in three- to six-family apartment buildings in Massachusetts between 2001 and 2013, causing about $320 million in property loss and resulting in 1,300 firefighter injuries, 700 civilian injuries, one firefighter death and 108 civilian deaths, he said.

The document said it costs about $27,450 to install a sprinkler and fire alarm system throughout a three-unit residential building.

Board member Alexander MacLeod said those costs need to be addressed.

"I know sprinklers can save lives," he said, "but I'd like to know what the cost is."

The paper's recommendations, which apply only to existing buildings undergoing renovations, do not explicitly call for changes to requirements for sprinklers and fire alarms.

The document concludes the state needs more affordable housing and a building code with "fewer and clear" requirements would help lower costs.

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