Grassroots Change
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How Fire Sprinklers Can Save Lives and Create Jobs

March 11, 2014

Mesa’s sprinkler initiatives provide a unique case study on how the fire service can apply federal grant dollars to improve public safety while achieving the broad national objectives of these grant programs: to eliminate blight and meet community development needs.”                                                                         – Scott Somers, vice-mayor, Mesa, Arizona

Flickr: G MacRae

Fire service members and other grassroots advocates have quietly built one of America’s most successful public safety movements by passing hundreds of local and state residential fire sprinkler laws during the past 30 years. Today, these ordinances and fire codes guarantee that all new homes, including one- and two-family homes are “sprinklered.”

As we’ve reported, properly installed and maintained fire sprinklers have a nearly perfect record of saving lives, preventing injuries, and limiting property damage. Because sprinkler systems automatically extinguish fires, sometimes before fire fighters have time to respond, they also reduce the burden on the fire service.

Now one community has pioneered an initiative that will save lives while spurring economic development and reducing blight. Mesa, Arizona has developed a pair of programs to bring the benefits of fire sprinklers to existing homes and businesses in low-income communities.

Under the leadership of vice-mayor Scott Somers, a veteran of the Phoenix Fire Department, Mesa has taken advantage of the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program to simultaneously address a range of economic and public health concerns.

The program was created by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to reduce the impact of housing foreclosures.  With some of the highest foreclosure rates in Arizona, Mesa received funding to address concerns in its 85204 zip code, an area with low- to moderate-incomes, significant crime problems, and a high incidence of fire.

Mesa uses its federal funding to purchase and rehab single- and multi-family properties in neighborhoods with high vacancies. Once completed, the homes are either rented to low-income families and individuals or sold to eligible buyers.

In addition to investing federal funds to install residential fire sprinklers, Mesa created a city-run grant program to retrofit historic downtown businesses. To date, Mesa’s initiative has resulted in the installation of fire sprinklers in 29 single-family and 29 multifamily homes. Not only will these investments save lives and prevent injuries, they have created or saved jobs in the construction industry.