House Fires

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 21, 2008

City successful in reducing house fires

By John Howell Sr.

Home insurers have joined city code departments in requiring updated electrical wiring, Farm Bureau Batesville agency manager John Thomas said last week.

Thomas’ comment came after Batesville Fire Department Fire and Life Safety Officer Rip Copeland spoke about code requirements and fire prevention at a meeting of the Batesville Exchange Club.

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“The City of Batesville is a big leader in fire prevention throughout the state,” Copeland said. He attributed stringent building codes first adopted 30 years ago and updated annually as having made a significant contribution to reduced fire calls.

Copeland also cited the fire department’s aggressive placement of free smoke detectors in Batesville homes, a program now beginning its fifth year.

“Our residence fire calls have dropped dramatically,” Copeland said.

Copeland said that he has teamed up with Panola County Fire Coordinator Daniel Cole to write a grant to fund a similar program for the entire county.

Panola County led the nation with nine fire deaths in 2007. Batesville has not had a fire death within the city limits for 15 to 18 years, Copeland said. There have been none in the county this year.

In eight of the nine homes in the county where fire deaths occurred last year there was no smoke detector, according to a June 13 story that announced the $256,500 grant. The funds will allow purchase of smoke detectors with tamper-proof lithium batteries for every home in the county, Copeland said.

“We’re looking for any civic group that may have an idea about how to get these into homes,” Copeland said. Students from the Batesville Job Corps Center will be among those helping with the smoke alarm distribution, he added.

Batesville’s newest building code changes will require sprinkler systems in new residential structures, the fire and life safety officer said.

At a sprinkler demonstration October 11 in the Lowe’s parking lot, “I was even amazed — how quickly it went off, how the fire was contained,” he said.

Batesville Fire Code Inspector Brett Childs organized the demonstration to show the advantages of the new requirements of the International Building Code. Firefighters constructed two similar rooms, ten feet square and equipped one with a sprinkler system.

A fire was set in each demonstration room. Damage was minimal in the sprinkler-equipped room, Copeland said, but significant in the other room where the fire was allowed to burn for seven minutes — BFD’s average response time — before firemen knocked it down with their water.

Copeland said that sprinkler system installation adds about $1 per square foot to new construction.

“Actually, with the cut rate for your insurance, it will pay for itself over time,” said Exchange member Calvin Land. Land cited a 10 to 15 percent reduction for insurance premiums on sprinkler-equipped homes.

Former Mayor Bobby Baker said when the city first adopted building codes in the 1970s, officials were finding water hoses used for gas piping and hazardous electrical conditions.

“I think that as a result of the leadership taking the heat, I believe we did right,” Baker said. “It was not a popular situation.”

“We’ve put some time limits,” on the age of wiring in a home, Thomas said of the insurance companies which underwrite home insurance policies.