Aldermen go against fire department recommendation, vote to remove mandated sprinkler systems from ordinance

Steve Salrin

Steve Salrin, deputy chief with the Quincy Fire Department, speaks to aldermen during Monday's Quincy City Council meeting. | David Adam

QUINCY — Chief Bernie Vahlkamp and Deputy Chief Steve Salrin with the Quincy Fire Department couldn’t convince the Quincy City Council not to make three changes to an ordinance to adopt the 2018 series of the International Code Council model code for the city’s building code.

Aldermen voted at the end of the meeting to remove mandated sprinkler systems (by 8-4 vote) from the ordinance, as well as mandated installation of sheetrock underneath the basement (by 7-5 vote) and mandated installation of a self-closing door from the garage to the house (by 8-4 vote). Aldermen will vote on the complete amended ordinance next week.

Richie Reis, D-6, Patty Maples, D-6, Ben Uzelac, D-7, and Jack Holtschlag, D-7, voted against all three changes. Dave Bauer, R-2, voted against the mandated installation of sheetrock underneath the basement. Kelly Mays, R-3, and John Mast, R-5, were absent.

In a letter to aldermen, Salrin said:

  • Current construction materials are considered lightweight because they are constructed of wood material that is glued together and compressed.
  • It takes approximately 10 minutes from the time a fire is detected to when the fire department applies water, but residential sprinkler activation takes place in the first two minutes.
  • Flashover, which occurs when all of the contents of a room heat to the point of producing vapors, occurs at approximately the eight-minute mark. Salrin said flashover is not survivable for occupants.
  • Fire sprinklers reduce fire damage by 97 percent.

“I have personally witnessed more discussion and consideration by multiple administrations and councils on the topic of garbage and recycling than the topic of residential fire sprinklers is receiving,” Salrin said. “This is a public and firefighter life safety issue that is being vetted in similar fashion to the honeybee nuisance ordinance (in October).

“In closing, before you vote in favor of the proposed amendments … ask yourself one question. Am I willing to accept the potential consequences if I choose to remove the requirements of fire sprinklers and under floor protection in new one- and two-family homes, knowing the codes were written, proposed and accepted by industry professionals throughout the country.”

Tim Koontz, a local construction business opener, asked aldermen during the public forum portion of the meeting not to mandate the sprinkler systems. He said building costs have risen 35 percent in the past year.

Michael Seaver, director of inspection and enforcement for the city, said he didn’t believe the additional cost for mandated sprinkler systems was out of line.

“I’m not questioning the local builders who got the quotes that reflect a much higher price. I think that’s because (local) plumbers haven’t done a lot of systems,” he said. “They may have concerns about liability and manpower, but once they begin to do them, the cost ends up being about $2 a foot. It really is just a matter of additional pipe, (sprinkler) heads and manpower, but not a lot in the way of design. This isn’t the sophisticated type of sprinkler system that you might see in a building like (City Hall).”

Aldermen eventually decided they didn’t want to force new homeowners to make that choice.

“This isn’t a sudden knee-jerk reaction for me,” Mike Farha, R-4, said. “With all due respect to (Salrin and Vahlkamp), I don’t think it’s an uneducated opinion to think people can make their own decisions. If a person wants to add a sprinkler a residential house, they can go ask the builder, and the builder will be glad to quote them a price.

“We heard this two and a half years ago from the little munchkin doctor who told us were uneducated, we don’t know, and we all needed to be locked down. I’m sorry. Government doesn’t always have the answers and, nothing against you two, but it’s just it’s kind of insulting.”

Eric Entrup, R-1, thanked Vahlkamp and Salrin for their work.

“What you guys said are all true statements,” he said. “It all comes down to choice and living in America. That’s what I truly believe is the bones of it. Just as simple as that. I truly believe the education point is getting it out there and keeping everybody hearing what you guys are saying, then letting (homeowners) make their own decisions about it.”

Aldermen approved the recommendation of the Southern Illinois Municipal Electric Co., to contract with Homefield Energy for the electric aggregation of all city electric accounts. Homefield made a bid of 9.78 center per kilowatt hour for the next 24 months, which SIMEC president Reg Ankrom would save the city approximately $990,000 in comparison to Ameren’s rate of 13.35 cents per kilowatt hour. 

SIMEC helps Illinois municipalities obtain lower-cost electricity supply. The residential aggregation program was tabled for a second week because of the volatility of the energy sector. 

Aldermen approved a resolution authorizing fire and police pension funding for May 1, 2023 to April 30, 2024. The funding for the fire pension plan will be $4.675 million, while the funding for to the police pension plan to be $4.188 million. Both payments are above the minimum recommendation from an actuarial study by Lauterbach and Amen, a Naperville firm.

“The police and fire pension has dropped from $100 million unfunded down to just under $91 million,” Quincy Mayor Mike Troup said after the meeting. “We’ve been budgeting 100 percent of the annual liability. We budgeted a higher amount this year than what the actuaries came up with, but we want to still pay and put that in there because it’s going to help offset that unfunded liability.”

Aldermen also:

  • Tabled the updated handbook to be implemented to the employees of the City of Quincy. 
  • Approved an amendment to a special permit for planned development at 2435 Maine to allow the addition of a cafeteria and storage by the Quincy Community Theater.
  • Granted a special use permit to construct a parking lot to serve Good Samaritan Home, 2130 Harrison.
  • Added a no-parking zone on the west side of North Fourth, 140 feet north of the centerline of Hampshire.
  • Approved a request by the Salvation Army, the Great River Corvette Club and Muddy River Riders groups requesting to hold an Angel Tree Parade down Broadway Street on Dec. 10. 
  • Approved the Truth in Taxation resolution, noting the city’s tax rate is expected to decrease for the new year.

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