ANNAPOLIS, Md. —A year after six members of a family were killed in an Annapolis-area mansion fire, lawmakers in the General Assembly are debating sprinklers in new home construction.
The heart of the issue is should sprinklers be a requirement for all new homes in Maryland? An Eastern Shore lawmaker said the current mandate is hurting the housing economy.
On Jan. 19, 2015, a set of grandparents, Don and Sandra Pyle and four of their grandchildren died in a massive fire in a mansion that had state-of-the-art smoke alarms. but had no sprinklers inside the home.
When the Pyles received permits for the custom-built home. sprinklers were not required for new homes in Anne Arundel County. State fire officials said sprinklers could have given the family a chance to survive. .
"My life has changed forever, but my brother and my sister-in-law and the kids don't want us sitting around crying," Sher Grogg, Don Pyle's sister said.
Grogg said that she is still grieving, but now she's also fighting to keep a law on the books that requires sprinklers in all new Maryland homes.
A new bill threatens to drop the statewide mandate and let counties allow homeowners to opt out.
"Taking away the fire sprinklers is like taking away the airbag to me," Grogg said. "You know you have the seatbelt but you don't have the airbag."
Del. Chris Adams, an Eastern Shore Republican, is sponsoring the county opt out bill. Adams, who is also a real estate developer, said that the sprinkler mandate has had a devastating impact on the rate of new home construction in his district.
Adams said the added expense on the Eastern Shore comes in part because the water pressure and infrastructure is not always in place in the more rural parts of the state. His bill requires builders to tell homeowners about the costs and benefits of sprinklers.
"Upon request of the buyer, the builder would install sprinklers in the home. As a result, these decisions will be made by consumer choice and not government mandate," Adams said in a statement.
Grogg says she does not want families choosing between money and their safety.
"The cost of a life is priceless," Grogg said. "You can lose furniture, you can lose belongings, but once a life is gone, it's gone."
State fire officials said that the average cost to install sprinklers in Maryland is $1.35 a square foot, which for a 30-year mortgage is $30 more a month.
But, Adams said those numbers are low for the Eastern Shore, adding that sprinklers can add $6,000 to the price of a home and that's pricing people out of homes