Commentary

printed 05/10/2019

Before fire safety advocates pounce on Worcester County government’s opposition to mandatory fire sprinklers in single-family residences, no one is saying automated sprinklers don’t save lives or that installing a system in a new home isn’t a smart move.

Although fire safety proponents continue to challenge the county’s argument that Maryland’s new sprinkler requirement could stall homebuilding, it doesn’t mean that the additonal expense won’t cause an increase in prices and a reduction in the number of potential home buyers.

Besides, it’s just one more thing state government is doing to make people protect themselves at their own expense.

That’s the rub with making sprinkler systems mandatory in new construction of single-family homes. It’s being done for our own good, whether we like it and can afford it or not.

It’s as if the state regulators are saying, we understand some people don’t quite have the money to buy a home, but if they did, they would be safer.

But, advocates counter, the cost to install a sprinkler system in new construction would be no more than $2,000 to $3,000 for a relatively modest 1,600-square-foot home. Still, that’s enough of a difference for those just breaking into the middle class.

It’s also not the point. Government’s fundamental purpose is to protect people from each other, not to involve itself in the lawful decisions, good or bad, of individuals.

It can offer incentives (which it refuses to do in this instance), cajole, educate and strongly encourage, but it should not simply declare that we will take care of ourselves no matter what because of the powerful advocacy of others.

The fact is accidental drownings in Maryland claim more lives — especially those of children — every year than residential fires do and yet there’s no major movement to prevent that.

Let’s repeat here that installing sprinklers in new homes is an option that buyers would be wise to choose. But as the county commissioners continue to argue, providing an affordable home is the priority. Whether to take extra precautions should be the buyer’s decision, not the government’s.

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