By offering home fire sprinkler incentives, AHJs, planners, and Town Managers can positively affect the community for generations to come
Hopkinton, MA, is a small but lively New England community rich with open, wooded spaces and other natural resources. The Town’s Boards follow a vision statement that aspires to protect and maintain its treasures as part of responsible development. It was their commitment to these protections that ultimately led to the installation of fire sprinklers in hundreds of new homes – and a home saved when an unattended candle started a fire.
“The process was begun about 12 years ago when a company initiated interest in developing a large parcel of land in an agricultural area,” explains Hopkinton Fire Chief Stephen T. Slaman. With 650 acres at stake near Hopkinton State Park, the Town had an important opportunity to facilitate new homes while protecting open spaces, controlling school growth, and managing other priorities.
Higher Density in Exchange for Home Fire Sprinklers
As part of the permitting process, the Town created a comprehensive plan that included fire safety. Hopkinton’s Host Community Agreement streamlined all of the customary permitting aspects, paving the way for developers to convert the land into neighborhoods. Higher density construction was allowed with several conditions, among them fire protection. “The Town agreed to frontage compromises and closer proximity to other buildings in exchange for installing fire sprinklers in every new home to be built in the development,” Chief Slaman says.
With nearly 1,000 new homes planned, Hopkinton’s agreement was a significant achievement on many fronts. Houses in Legacy Farms, north and south, are being built by Pulte. Additional retirement community homes are being constructed in The Trails by Heritage Properties. “This area made up the largest parcel in town left,” Chief Slaman says, estimating that about 20 percent of developable land remains in Hopkinton today.
Homebuilders Now Advertise Their Home Fire Sprinklers
The approved development plan is a model for planning/fire service cooperation and was a watershed educational moment, the Chief says, noting that, at the time, homebuilders didn’t have as much understanding of home fire sprinkler installations as they do today.
“It broke through the resistance. With some 500 homes already built and sprinklered successfully, we’ve transitioned through their past thinking that sprinklers were a nuisance. In fact, now homebuilders are advertising that their homes have fire sprinklers as part of their marketing efforts.”
That promotion is helping Chief Slaman with his fire safety education presentations to Hopkinton planners, builders, and consumers as other new homes get under way. Whether a single house or a neighborhood, he wants builders and consumers to recognize the added value that home fire sprinklers provide in new homes. “I go to every single planning board meeting and offer this up and say fire sprinklers will make it safer for the public,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to protect these next new homes with sprinklers. They will be in rural areas with long driveways and poor access. Many of them don’t have municipal water.”
The Chief is a proponent of education, and his efforts routinely pay off. “I just spoke with a homeowner planning to build this week and had some handouts with me. As a result, they’re now going to sprinkler their house too.”
Home Fire Sprinkler Save
Legacy Farms has already experienced one reported home fire sprinkler success story. An unattended candle burned down and ignited some surrounding combustible material, activating a single sprinkler. “No one was injured, and the sprinkler confined the fire to the area of origin,” Chief Slaman says.
Hopkinton serves as a vibrant example of how progressive local management of new-home development benefits everyone in the community. By offering incentives for fire sprinkler installation, local planners and town managers can positively affect the community for generations to come and preserve natural resources in the process. Most importantly, the lives of residents and firefighters will be protected if a fire breaks out.