Fire sprinklers in all new homes in South Carolina should be considered an investment that will dramatically reducethe number of fire deaths, according to Lee Levesque of the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District.
But homebuilders say that investment is too steep for some aspiring homeowners and that the benefits of such a requirement aren't as clear as advocates say.
As the debate continues, a final decision on whether sprinklers will be required could take months.
Last week, the S.C. Building Codes Council passed the mandate as part of a larger International Residential Code, but members of the council will revisit the decision Aug. 22.
Ultimately, the General Assembly will determine whether sprinklers will be required, and it's unlikely the issue will make it onto the agenda as the session draws to a close.
Meanwhile, Levesque and firefighters across the state are attempting to drum up support for the mandate. The "Faces of Fire" campaign debuted in the Palmetto State last week, featuring people such as Princella Lee Bridges of Greenville, who suffered burns on nearly half of her body after a house fire in 1992.
In her public-service announcement, Bridges asks how the cost of installing sprinklers measures up to her injuries and the loss of her career and husband.
Whatever the cost, Mark Nix of the Home Builders Association of South Carolina believes homeowners should be allowed to decide if they can afford sprinklers.
"It doesn't matter what the price is," Nix said. "Homebuyers should have the option because they need to know everything about what installing sprinkler systems entails, including how much maintenance and upkeep will cost."
Allen Patterson, president of the association's Lowcountry chapter, says sprinklers are an option on every home he builds, but very few people request them.
Levesque said that the lives and property of both residents and firefighters would be protected if sprinklers were required in homes. South Carolina consistently has one of the highest death tolls as a result of fires, Levesque said. So far, 37 people have died this year from fires; 55 died in 2011, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.