What's a reasonable fire prevention regulation?

It's not quite the Tennessee fire company that watched a house burn down because the owner hadn't opted-in to coverage by paying a $75 fee, but Pennsylvania is this week dealing with its own question about the appropriate extent of government regulation when it comes to fire prevention:

A House bill suspending a statewide mandate to install sprinklers in new homes was passed by the Senate Thursday.

Introduced by state Rep. Scott Boyd (R – Lancaster), H.B. 1196 would suspend the mandate to install fire sprinklers in homes through 2011, instead only requiring builders to offer installation and inform the buyer.

Arguing for the suspension is the Pennsylvania Builders Association, which says the increased cost of new homes creates a disincentive to building them. Here's the case for the mandate, from the National Fire Protection Association:

“The reality is if you have a smoke alarm in your house compared to nothing your chances of survival are improved by about 50 percent. If you have both smoke alarms and sprinklers, your chances are about 80 percent,” said Gary Keith, vice president of the NFPA. “We think that level of protection is completely warranted when you add in that extra benefit to keeping those fires small to minimize injuries and minimizing property damages.”

Deciding whether or not to get a sprinkler has repercussions beyond one's own home and safety. If your house burns down, that's a threat to your neighbor's house -- especially in a city. Of course, society recognizes this, socializes the cost of fire control, and imposes regulations like this one aimed at reducing the likelihood of fire. The question here is whether the cost of the regulation is reasonable. It's a fair question -- we wouldn't require people to pay for their own personal firefighter, even though doing so would provide comprehensive fire prevention. The Independent reports that the cost of sprinklers in an 1,100-to-1,500 foot home would be an additional $1,000-$4,000. We're not experts on the home-building market, but that doesn't sound crazy to us.

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