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Ruth Balser


Expanding sprinkler requirements: A legislator's perspective

State Representative Ruth Balser of Massachusetts discusses her push for sprinkler requirements during NFPA's Home Fire Sprinkler Summit in North Carolina.

Ruth Balser, a Democatic state representative from Massachusetts, has been championing for increased sprinkler protection in buildings ever since five people died in a commercial building in her district. Now a stong supporter for home fire sprinklers, she has developed a 14-year partnership with the Massachusetts state fire marshal and other members of the Massachusetts Fire Sprinkler Coalition to increase sprinkler installation in all new homes. 

"Politics is like housework--your job is never done," Balser told attendees at NFPA's Home Fire Sprinkler Summit in North Carolina. "The coalition came to me and said, 'the next frontier is residential homes.' I've learned that there has never been a death in an automatic sprinklered building in Massachusetts."

Balser has filed legislation to increase sprinkler requirements, but admits "it's very tough to fight an argument around something that people feel will hurt business and the economy. At the end of the day, sprinklers cost something, but how do you put a price tag on a human life?"

Balser tasked attendees to establish relationships with their legislators and constantly press them to take a stance in support of mandatory sprinkler installation. "When lobbying for this cause, get real emotional with this issue," said Balser. "If we as policymakers can do something to save lives, we need to do it." Moreover, inform legislators that sprinklers increase the protection of emergency responders on the scene of a fire, she added. "This argument has to be made loud and clear: we have a responsibility to the people that go into those burning buildings."