Red Righter: CUFFS—Invite ’76ers Onto Budget Advisory Board

From Red Righter

Cuffs’ face was buried in the Friday edition of the Cecil Whig when I slid into his booth at the North Street Hotel.   “I guess you’re engrossed in my latest column?” I said, breaking the silence and trying to get his attention.  Not moving the paper or even offering me a glance, he snapped, “QUIET! Can’t you see I’d doing some serious reading here?”

Pleased that my latest opinion piece on the sprinkler issue had commanded so much of the ornery oracle’s attention, I waited until he had finished digesting my fine article. As he rested the paper on the table, Cuffs tapped the page with his finger and said, “Now that’s some good writing, and a real damn good story!” “Thanks,” I said, proudly, as I offered a wide grin.

“Not you, you moron!” Cuffs snarled. “I’m talking about that guy Carl Hamilton. He did a bang up story about those seniors down in Cecilton. Did you read it?”  “Yeah,” I replied, recalling the front-page piece that spotlighted a great group of senior citizens, operating on their own, with no government handouts of any kind. Hamilton’s background information and interviews with members of the group presented a fine piece about independent, take-care-of-themselves, hard working American citizens.

The Cecilton group, called the “Lower Cecil County Senior Center” also goes by the name “76ers,” since it stated in 1976, during the Bicentennial. They have events, trips, program, plus affordable meals every week. The story was timed to coincide with the group’s 35th anniversary.

“Thirty-five years,” said Cuffs, “and they never took a dime of taxpayer money. You know what that means, Red?”  After pausing to try to offer a fairly acceptable answer, I said, “They must be doing a good job, because they’ve lasted that long?”

Shaking his head in disgust, Cuff snarled, “That’s an obvious, unthinking, surface answer. I’m looking for something with more depth, with insight, something that would link these independent role models down in Cecilton to our present dire county financial situation.”

article continues on Red Righter


9 responses to “Red Righter: CUFFS—Invite ’76ers Onto Budget Advisory Board

  1. Response to Ed Oconowicz regarding automatic sprinklers in single family homes.

    I note that Cecil County’s premier story teller and ghost writer has written a second opinion article (14 Jan 2011 and 28 Jan 2011) for The Whig regarding the installation of automatic sprinkler protection in single family homes in Cecil County. He might do well to keep his “what if” and “just in case” speculations to his tall tales and leave the serious business of automatic sprinkler protection to those that are willing to investigate the facts and analyze the situation with the proper perspective. His writings do nothing but further the myths and misinformation that are already abound on this important subject.

    The residential portion of the fire problem continues to account for the vast majority of civilian casualties according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) whose estimates show that while residential structure fires account for only 25 percent of fires nationwide, they account for a disproportionate share of losses: 83 percent of fire deaths, 77 percent of fire injuries, and 64 percent of direct dollar loss. [NFPA summary for 2005]

    Mr. Oconowicz is correct in stating when it comes to homes built in the last 20 years, the strict building codes and building materials have led to more carefully inspected and safer buildings. He, however, overlooks several of the most important features of a residential home – the contents and the acts of the occupants. Neither the amount of combustible contents and furnishings of residential homes nor the acts of the occupants can be controlled by codes, etc. – only by the choice of the occupants. Cooking is the leading cause of residential building fires for the 5-year period 2005-2009 according to data from the U. S. Fire Administration. In 2009 cooking led to 164,900 fires with heating being the second cause with 50,200 fires followed by electrical malfunction, other unintentional careless acts, and smoking.

    While I believe that people should have a choice, they should also have the facts to base their choice. Knowing the facts that automatic sprinklers save lives – both the building occupants and the rescue responders – it needs to be seriously taken into account when making the decision on passing the code requirement for Cecil County. The issue is much more than about money, it is about lives.

    Richard Glover

  2. Richard, we agree.

    A little more factually based discussion would be constructive as the commissioners finalize a decision on this matter. Although it was essentially a done deal from the start, one would hope that the elected officials listen to people and base decisions on facts. As you indicate, the statements that concerned us too were related to whether sprinklers grealty increase life safety and are an effetive technology. In both of those areas, they are and it’s well documented. In additon to the Red Righter, Cecil County’s award-winning storyteller, Mr. Okonowicz, a bunch of people used technical points, which aren’t supported by facts.

    We hope Commissioner Moore recognized that when she said there was a lot of misinformaiton out there, so she wanted time to sort through what they’d been hearing. We’ll see as the discussion progresses. Still, in our opinon, whatever the facts say we believe it was practically a done deal from the start.

    Our plea to the public policy makers, legacy media columnists, and others is check your facts to get those points right before you share them. There was one instance (previously discused thorougly here) where one person was using the requirements for commerical structures as the basis for his technical evaluation. There’s a separate code, but apparenlty his research didn’t come up with that.

    Now we have the Red Righter, Cecil County’s Award Winning Story Telle, joining in. If the commissioners hadn’t already made up their mind, they’d have a challenging time sorting through what they heard.

    There were degreed fire protection engineers there sharing the technical strengths and weaknesses of this life safety solution and they’re the people you want to talk to. While I knew enough to know that the maintenance costs, failure rates, successful outcomes, etc largely weren’t right for those opposing the systems, the experts introduced a few important technical concepts that need to be examined. We hope the commissioners heard those points in all the noise that was being generated. Perhaps the commissioners professional staff caught those points and will discuss it with them, to make sure the decision gets a reasonably examination

    Those included the fact that in two years, the Maryland Code is going to change and introduce some new state-wide requiremetns for construction in non-sprinilered single family dwellings. So what’s that all about since it’s going to be a state-wide requirement? The other one is that the commissioners can’t reduce the requirement for moudlar homes. Again, I just caught those remarks from the qualified professionals and don’t have answers, but want more info to make sure I understand what I heard and also to clarify all that was said in this 3-hour public hearing.

    Public policy argument about governmental regulations and the right of homeowners to decide the level of safety they want has validity and is worthy of a discussion. We believe they should be requireed (just as smoke detectors, seat belts & motorcycle helmets are), but that consideration has logic to it. Several pepole in the audience made really clear points in the sphere and we posted one (Stephen England’s) to make sure those points were considered.

  3. Dear Sprinkler Advocates:

    Opponents (myself certainly included) of mandated residential sprinklers agree that these expensive mechanisms will help put our fires and, certainly, save the lives of residents and firefighters. At issue is: Will each single-family dwelling homeowner be allowed to make his/her own choice regarding the unit’s purchase and installation?

    Recently, anyone speaking out against mandated sprinklers has been accused of being insensitive to the dangers faced by firefighters, ignoring the fact that sprinkler technology can save lives, and even, in one case, making stupid choices with one’s own finances—by selecting higher-priced kitchen cabinets and counter tops rather than putting one’s funds into a home sprinkler system. (Talk about intruding on a homeowner’s decision making.)

    Promoting personal choice in this matter has been challenged by sprinkler zealots with the same unbridled passion as those who demand we buy experimental electric cars, survive on untested wind powered energy grids, consume only lousing tasting health foods and accept increased government decision making in inappropriate areas of our daily lives.

    While I have presented some “what if” scenarios, I have not contradicted the self-appointed “experts” on this issue, particularly regarding sprinklers’ life saving benefits. But I do wonder how many of sprinkler proponents—who apparently know what is best for everyone—currently live in a sprinkler protected home, or are in possession of a signed contract with a licensed sprinkler contractor?

    After all, if these life saving systems are so critical to each person’s immediate survival, I would think its most vocal proponents are on a growing list, eagerly awaiting their turn to have their new sprinkler system professionally installed.

    • Response to Red Righter (Ed Oconowicz).
      I suppose you also make the choice when you buy a new car whether or not you want seat belts or air bags installed in your car. What, you can’t buy a new car without seat belts or air bags? What happened to your right to make your own choice? Oh, your choice is either buy new with seat belts and air bags, or buy a used car without. I admit to not having done my homework, but doubt if one can buy a used car today without seat belts – air bags of course may be a different situation of which one can probably find a used car without.

      What if you don’t want a house with automatic sprinkler protection? It would appear that your choice is not to buy new, but rather to buy a used house.

      Yes, one can go on and on about these type of arguments. “But just in case” the requirement is deleted from the code as proposed by Mr. Hodges, perhaps we can use his proposed signed agreement to not install sprinklers as the mechanism to install a plaque (as was done in yesteryears to verify dues paid to the fire company) on the house saying “I made a choice to not install sprinkler protection, therefore do not risk your life to safe any occupants if this house is on fire.”

  4. Hey!

    My house is for sale. PLEASE don’t start referring to loved and cared for existing homes as used. It sounds cheap and possibly should be relegated to Good Will or Salvation Army. You are promoting the negative housing market.

  5. Mike,
    When the gentleman from Charlestown was discussing the fact that new codes would come out in 2 years, he was, I believe, referring to the new codes from the ICC, the International Code Council. These codes have no legal bearing, and do not amount to a state mandate. The only way this will become a state mandate is if legislation is passed in the General assembly, and I don’t believe anything like that was mentioned at the sprinkler hearing, although that may be in the works. He indicated in his speech that when the sprinkler codes had been adopted by the ICC, he had been present at the meetings and had cast a vote in favor of those requirements. He indicated that the ICC would come out with new requirements in 2 years including a requirement that houses built with the lightweight, wood that burns easily (I don’t remeber the technical term) would need to be wrapped in a fire-retardent material. However, as with the sprinkler code, this would only become a legal requirement if our local or state government passed legislation to enforce it.

    • Jackie, the subject matter expert (SME) I was referencing, was another person. Y0u’re thinking of a professional firefighter and volunteer command officer with the Charlestown Fire Company. He made some excellents point too, that were on point and on target, in support of residential sprinklers.

      But the SME’s remarks that got my attention was a degreed fire protection engineer, someone specializing in the design of these types of things and practicing that work as a professional. He was with the State of Maryland I believe. I know enough about these things to know when someone statements seem to have validity or are total wrong. For example, when the six or so people spoke about bout how sprinklers don’t save lives, are way too difficult to maintain, have extremely high failure rates, or whatever points they were making, I knew that to some great degree those comments weren’t based on factual data tested by independent testing laboratories or some other independent authoratative source. They were just unresearched (or inadequatley researched) opinions. But when the registered engineer was speaking, he brought up an entirely new point that I was unaware of, as I suspect are many of the decision makers. He indicated that the code will be changed in 2 years (standard procedure to update things) and that at the state level things are going to be strengthened.

      Whatever the case, it’s this sort of fact-finding that a decison maker wants to get clear on as they select the correct course of action. If there’s nothing to it and as you indicate it’ll still be a county option it’ll be good to determine that. If there is something too those remarks, it’s something Cecil County decision makers will want to know too so we don’t bumble along through these things.

      There were two specific code-related technical remarks that evening that I heard that need to be evaluated as part of due diligence.

      Anyway thanks for sharing your opinions and perspectives.

  6. This comes down to one’s ideological view of government. Some, like me, believe that people need to be provided with information and education, and then they need to allowed to govern themselves. The founders firmly believed in the common man’s ability to self-governance. They believed in both personal liberty- making one’s own decisions, and personal responsibility- accepting the consequences of those decisions.
    I believe people are capable of deciding if a sprinkler system is a worthy investment or not. I also am for giving the people the information from both sides, the pros and cons of such a system, and regardless of what some may indicate on this blog, there are both, and a homeowner should be able to weigh both sides and make a decision.
    Others believe that it is the government’s role to act as a parent in society, continually passing more regulations to ensure the safety and well-being of its children, and protect them from their own decisions. Some people believe that people are not equipped to govern their own lives and need the government to make sure they make the “correct” decisions. We have seen this mentality as some propose new food regulations or taxes on soft drinks or other junk foods.
    One issue brought up was that of seatbelts and airbags, but most people agree that when occupying shared space with other people, a different set of guidelines should be in place. So when discussing apartment buildings, public areas, roadways, etc., there are reasonable rules that should be in place to protect one person from irresponsible behavior or mistakes of another. There is always a question of where to draw the line, between the community good in a public area, and personal choice. But when dealing with one’s personal property, rules and regulations should be the least restrictive and the least burdensome, allowing people to have autonomy and accept responsibility for their own lives and for those for whom they are responsible. When a person purchases a home, it is reasonable that there should be regulations/protections in place for consumers to ensure that the building is safe to live in and that the roof will not fall in on them while they are sleeping. But when it comes to decisions that homeowners can directly take responsibility for and make on their own, they should be allowed to do so. The government’s job is not to provide a safety net to protect from all personal risk. If that is it’s role, then why not start with a real killer, cigarettes? According to the CDC, smoking causes about 1 in every 5 deaths in the U.S., and my guess is, it also contributes to many household fires. And think about the poor children who are subjected to secondhand smoke. So, if we are really concerned about lives, fires, and children, and it is the government’s job to protect us from our own choices, why worry about sprinklers, when so many more lives could be saved just by banning cigarettes?
    Every time the ICC comes up with a new code, the state or local governments should not just accept them without review. There are a lot of things that should be considered first, such as: 1. Is this something that the government should mandate, or is this decision better left up to the consumer? How will this impact my constituents and our community economically? What are the drawbacks of this requirement?
    The woman representing a sprinkler company commented that there were no risks with the sprinklers accidentally going off (which does happen, as was confirmed at the hearing by those who had experienced this), as long as you don’t throw a ball or something at it. All I can say is, she obviously doesn’t have young boys living in her house.

    • Jackie, certainly there are arguments to be considered in this public policy discusssion from an ideological viewpoint. On that I do see the arguments you’re putting forth, while still disagreeing with your assertions. I’ll remark more on that in just a moment, but let me get back to an area which isn’t on such a solid foundation, that of challenging the technical efficiencies of systems first as you made a few additional remarks on that subject.

      This technical efficiency of systems was an area where there was so much noise and incorrect information. Richard Glover, a retired fire protection engineer for the Atomic Energy Commission, shared an article a few weeks ago with me about the myths of sprinkler systems and that article addressed most of the remarks people were tossing out so freely without investigating the matter.

      On the worry about sprinkler leakage, the risk is extremely small. In fact you’re far more likely to have water damage from your domestic plumbing systems. The rate of accidental activation is approximately 1 in 16 million, one study concluded. Let’s suppose they were way too generose with that estimate, it’s still not likely. Better chance of winning some lotteries.

      These systems are specifically designed for residential applications and are meant to survive exposure to standard matters in the home. Someone at the meeting worried about them activiating from ambient temperature from a Maryland summer! I’d hate to install one in the deep south. You’d really get washed out if that were the case!

      Oh they worried about the water damage from a sprinkler activatied to suppress a fire too. You’ll have far less damage from that sprinkler head than you will from fire hoses and the damage that fire does to the house.

      That article on myths was worth consideration by the Cecil County Commissioners. Hopefully these were the sorts of things Commissioner Moore was talking about when she said she wanted to sort through the info to do some fact-finding.

      But back to your primary point, while we’re going to have to just diagree on this, let me point out that there is a cost burden when society has to provide the safety net collectively, rather than placing it at the individual level. There’s a cost for public fire suppression equipment and as fire danger risks grow and communities get larger, you need more and more equipment. The same applies with our modern construction methods that create faster moving for serioius fires. Better to put that burden at the individual level and require suppression systems that check the fire within moments of iginition with something like 20 gallons of water on average (of course there are outliers). When we don’t do that, we shift the burden to the public and there is a cost burden for such cost shifting. I’d argue each individual should be responsible for carrying his fair share of the societal cost they create.

      I recall hearing the same thing over motorcycle helmets, smoke detectors in single family dwellings, seat belts to protect the driver of the car when no one else is in it, etc. When they’re injured and require trauma level car, there’s a major societial cost. Our state police helicopters have to repsond, the paramedics are called out, there’s the healthcare cost for critical lifesaving and then there’s the burden of rehabilitation. When a seat belt will save an individual from creating such a societial cost why not take such a course of action to reduce the public’s outlay of cash.

      Anyway, those are my thoughts and thanks for sharing your perspetive.

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