Fire Sprinklers: Are They Worth a Life?

A fire at a home in rural Pennsylvania killed seven children Tuesday night, a day after state representatives voted to repeal a law that went into effect January 1 requiring fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes.

Although the fire that claimed the lives of a seven-month-old through an 11-year-old was in an older farm house, Pennsylvania is one of two states (the other is California) that requires new construction homes to install fire sprinklers in the hopes of saving lives. Some other states, such as Minnesota, whose House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee just rejected such a law last week, say it's just too expensive to make this a requirement. Overall, 38 states have said no, and others are still considering it, although some cities enforce a requirement.

"We're not preventing anyone from putting in sprinklers," said Minn. Rep. Joyce Peppin (R), the sponsor of the bill that would prevent Minnesota from allowing the sprinklers. "My overall concern is the sheer cost of it," which, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported she said could amount to thousands of dollars per house.

But how much money can one put on the lives of the young, the old or the bedridden? Is $5 a month too much?