Online Program

Grassroots movement building and preemption in the campaign for residential fire sprinklers

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 11:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.

Mark Pertschuk, JD, Grassroots Change, Oakland, CA
Robin Hobart, MPH, MPP, Consultant, Denver, CO
Marjorie Paloma, MPH, Health Group, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, East Princeton, NJ
Michelle Larkin, MS, JD, Health Group, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Princeton, NJ
Edith Balbach, Ph.D, Community Health Program, Tufts University, Medford, MA
Although building codes require fire sprinklers in most multi-family dwellings, residential fires still account for 85% of fire deaths in the United States. The majority of one- and two-family homes lack fire sprinklers. Since 1978, however, a grassroots movement has promoted the passage of more than 360 local ordinances mandating sprinklers in all new residential construction, including one- and two-family homes. The home building industry has responded to this grassroots movement by advocating for preemption of local authority, a strategy previously employed by special interests such as the tobacco industry. From 2009 through 2011, thirteen states adopted laws eliminating or limiting local authority over residential fire sprinklers. The passage of state preemption of local authority in this case follows an historic pattern in which impacted industries use preemption as a tool to undermine grassroots public health and safety policy campaigns.

This case study of the residential sprinkler movement adds to our understanding of grassroots movements and the role such movements can play in promoting public health and safety. Grassroots movement building is a powerful tool in public health, regardless of the issue being addressed.

Effective national and global policies often have their roots in local action, which is stymied by state preemption. While this case study focuses on the residential fire sprinkler movement in the US, the findings about both the power of grassroots movement building and preserving local authority offer valuable lessons for those working in different countries and on other public health and safety issues.

Learning Areas:

Advocacy for health and health education
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Define the term "grassroots movement" as it relates to a campaign for public health or safety legislation. Describe the impact of state preemption on the residential sprinkler movement.

Keyword(s): Injury Prevention, Policy/Policy Development

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the Director of Grassroots Change: Connecting for Better Health in Oakland, California. I am the former Executive Director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights in Berkeley, California (1986–2007), and ran a grassroots campaign to ban smoking on all commercial airline flights in the United States. In 1995, I co-founded Californians for Responsible Gun Laws to mobilize grassroots support for 40 local gun control ordinances and four major statewide firearm laws.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.