Beginning in October, developers will have to install sprinklers in some new subdivisions with three or more homes in order to meet revised fire code regulations.
Under the new regulations, subdivisions with three or more houses must have sprinklers if there is not a fire hydrant within 1,000 feet. Prior to the revisions being approved, sprinklers were required in subdivisions of four or more lots under a waiver.
The revised rules are going into effect only a few weeks after the Rutherford County Commission approved the amended regulations following months of heated debate.
“The (Rutherford County) Planning Commission has heard many, many comments on the proposed sprinkler system (regulations) over the last eight to nine months, and public hearings were held … just to make sure that everything was heard and fully discussed,” Commissioner Jeff Phillips said, as he introduced the proposal during a Sept. 12 regularly scheduled meeting in downtown Murfreesboro.
Much of the opposition has been a result of “misconceptions” that these regulations are “mandating” the installation of fire-safety sprinklers in all new developments, Phillips said.
“About four years ago… this body talked about areas of the county that were prime for development but (were unable to) support fire safety because of the lack of fire hydrants,” Phillips said. “There was a lot of discussion at this body, over several months.
"As a result, the Planning Commission put together an alternative to development in those areas, where the water lines were so weak that they would not support fire hydrants. So, as an alternative to allow development in those areas that would not support a fire hydrant, there was this policy, and this program put together.”
“Up until about a month ago it was in effect, and has been in effect for well over four years without any problems,” he continued, noting the issue had not been a topic of much discussion until recently.
If the Planning Commission had just called this a revision of existing subdivision regulations an “update” instead of a “redo,” Phillips said, the regulations would not have been so heavily debated.
“My whole point is that there are areas in the county, as we get into the future, that need to be developed,” he said, “and the Planning Commission wants to ensure that can happen.”
Without adequate fire protection, some of that land is not developable, he said.
“That’s the reason that this is so important,” Phillip said, “and that’s the only reason. It’s an option, not a mandate. There are areas in this county that will not support fire hydrants, and according to some reports that we’re getting from (the Consolidated Utility District), adequate water supply to some of those parts of the county is not in the foreseeable future – I mean years and years out.”
Under existing regulations developers are required to provide fire hydrants in all subdivisions within 1,000 feet of homes where the water lines produce enough pressure for one to be feasible.
During an Aug. 12 public hearing on the regulations, Bill Dunnill, the general manager of the Consolidated Utility District, pointed out the crux of the issue: Fire hydrants are not available in several of new, larger developments because of water pressure and volume issues.
He said water volume and pressure are determined by the size of the water lines in a location, which are determined by the level of local water usage. If those lines are not used, the water quality diminishes over time.
Water that has sat for three or four months could experience chlorine decay, which produces carcinogens, affecting the drinkability of the water, Dunnill said.
Additionally, adding a new hydrant to a water line could reduce the pressure below required levels, he said
If there is an inadequate amount of water supply to support fire hydrants, developers can receive a waiver. However, a developer may be granted a waiver only if fire-safety sprinklers are installed in accordance with National Fire Protection Association requirements and come with an audio alarm. These requirements do not apply to existing residential structures, according to the legislation.
Although the change was much less drastic compared with previous proposals, it still prompted Commissioner Matthew Young, who is a firefighter, to question the new 1,000-foot distance requirement during the County Commission meeting.
He also questioned whether it was measured “as the crow flies” or by “road miles.”
Doug Demosi, the director of the Planning Commission, replied that there has been ongoing discussion about the proper wording for the distance requirements for quite some time. He also noted that the Planning Commission is in the process of studying the regulations of other jurisdictions and preparing a report for the County Commission on the best method to use for the fire hydrant distance requirements in the future.
“A thousand feet comes from how much hose is carried on a fire truck,” Commissioner Robert Peay Jr. said in reference to the discussion. “There’s (roughly) 1,000 feet of large diameter hose required on a fire truck. That’s why you’ve got that requirement in our subdivision rules… it’s got to do with how much hose is laid out.”
The County Commission approved the sprinkler option for fire hydrant waivers by a vote of 17-3, with Young abstaining from the vote.
Young said he chose to abstain from voting because other options were not being considered, such as allowing dry hydrants to be installed in future subdivisions.
“I’m just not going to vote on it because I’m not going to vote against fire sprinklers,” Young said, “but I can’t support it the way it’s written … it doesn’t put all the options out there on the table for the developers or the county.”