The 2009 International Residential Code that makes fire sprinklers mandatory in new home construction takes effect this month. The occasion gives us the chance to take another look at residential fire sprinklers, and from a couple different viewpoints. I encourage you to view fire sprinklers both as a life-saving product and as a business opportunity.

On the first point, I recently spoke with a woman whose company manufactures fire sprinkler systems. She had just attended a live demonstration where two rooms were set on fire: one room with sprinklers and the other without.

Fire consumed the contents of the room without sprinklers in a matter of seconds. Sprinklers quickly contained the fire in the other room and kept damage to a minimum.

The manufacturer believes that if more people could see these test burns, they would support fire sprinklers in all new home construction. Having attended a live simulation myself, I agree with her.

In fact, as a newspaper reporter early in my career I covered fires that were far from simulations. Unfortunately, they were the real thing.

More often than not, firefighters would get to the scene and contain the fire before I arrived. Thirty or so years later, I remember the night I got to one fire a couple blocks from my apartment in Rochester, N.Y., to see smoke billowing out of a third-story flat.

A small group of reporters, photographers and neighbors stood in the cold, looking up as firefighters tried to extinguish the blaze. The elderly woman who lived in the flat died that night in the fire. Had her apartment been equipped with fire sprinklers, she likely would have survived.

As we report elsewhere in this month’s issue, 80 percent of U.S. fire deaths occur in homes while eight people a day, on average, die in home fires. Industry research shows automatic fire sprinklers can reduce fire damage by as much as 97 percent.

Along with their life-saving qualities, residential fire sprinklers can mean new business for you. This can be true whether your company primarily installs plumbing or fire sprinklers.

For this to happen, of course, new home construction will have to get back on track. And, it will help if you do business in a jurisdiction covered by the 2009 IRC, which is a model code that has to be adopted locally.

Even with these conditions, however, sprinkler manufacturers who attended last fall’s American Fire Sprinkler Association trade show in Providence, R.I., expect to see a big upswing in their business as a result of the code change. A few even voiced concerns that contractors will not be able to satisfy the demand.

The increasing demand caused by the code change and a recovering housing market will lead more plumbing contractors to expand their services to include fire sprinklers. It also will motivate more commercial fire sprinkler contractors to add residential sprinklers to their business plan.

Regardless of what type of contractor puts in the fire sprinklers, employees must be trained properly to install the systems correctly. Trade associations and manufacturers are among the resources you should tap to make sure your people get the training they need.

Poorly installed fire-protection systems that don’t function properly will neither save lives nor reduce property damage. They won’t help you to grow your business either.