Redmond, Washington Fire Marshal has Made an Impact on Local, State, and National Levels
“Where passion meets purpose: it’s where the magic happens, where goals are achieved, and where the impossible becomes possible.” Those words by author C.A. Friesan could describe Todd Short, fire marshal for the city of Redmond, Washington Fire Department. Short rallied his community to pass a residential sprinkler ordinance, the success of which propelled him to advocate for fire safety on both the state and national levels. For his achievements, the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) is proud to present its 2023 Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award to Todd Short.
Finding His Niche
Short came into the fire service after a successful career in sales. With an interest in life safety and a view to the future, he volunteered with his local fire department and began to apply for firefighter positions. In September 1993, he was offered a position with the Redmond, Washington, Fire Department.
Short was in his thirties when he went through the recruit academy and graduated as co-valedictorian. “I think my background of being in business for myself and having to be consistent and resilient helped me do well in the academy. Having 33 years of life experience behind me didn’t hurt, either!”
When he and his wife Denise were expecting their first child four years later, Short looked for a position that better suited the demands of a young family. He tested for a daytime position as an inspector and was promoted in December 1996. “That’s where I was exposed to and learned the value of the fire sprinkler concept,” Short says.
In 1999 Short was promoted to assistant fire marshal and was responsible for development-related plan review and inspections of building and fire permits. “I was active in providing training to the region, which was open to Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs), contractors, installers, and designers of fire sprinkler and alarm systems,” Short recalls. “This collaborative training model fostered connections and relationships amongst these groups.”
Protecting Redmond’s Residents
“We’re a very progressive fire prevention division, and we’ve always exceeded uniform and international codes regarding fire sprinklers,” states Short. “We already had an ordinance in place requiring commercial structures over 6,000 ft2 to be sprinklered, which exceeded uniform codes at the time. Then we were very proactive and dropped that requirement down to 3,000 ft2.”
Short notes that homebuilders embraced mitigation but not a mandate. “Putting sprinklers in all new homes was on our agenda, but, quite frankly, we didn’t think we could get anything passed.”
When Tim Fuller became the new fire chief for Redmond in 2005, he, too, saw the value of residential sprinklers and wanted to pursue an ordinance in all new homes built in the city. Armed with a well-researched case of both national and local facts and data, projecting how loss of life and property would be significantly reduced, then Mayor Rosemarie Ives was easily convinced to support and advocate for the initiative and sent it to the city council for their deliberations and for community input.
“Tim selected a core group within the department to be part of the strategic planning,” Short recalls. “I was assistant fire marshal at the time, and I convinced him that my background in sales had led me to this moment.” The rest is history.
Fuller invited the builder groups and associations in to announce that he was pursuing a residential sprinkler ordinance in all newly built single- and multi-family housing. “It was the best process,” Short remarks. “We told them up front—this is what we’re doing, this is why we’re doing it, and we’re putting you on notice.”
“In the past, other administrations had tried to slip it by them, and no one had been successful with that approach. Builders would come out in droves. This time, the chief said, ‘We’re going to be transparent.’ Nobody in our state had passed an ordinance locally, let alone gain the required State Building Code Council (SBCC) approval for such ordinance. Redmond was positioning to be the first!”
Short and his team spent the better part of 2006 presenting data and educating the seven-member city council and the city’s public safety committee, comprised of three members from the council. The team also secured a house slated for demolition in which to hold a live burn demonstration. “We partnered with the Woodinville Fire Department and the city of Kirkland to create a side-by-side setup in the garage. We also worked with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to assist in the actual scenarios, monitor room temperatures during the event, and produce a video.”
The event was popular. “Over 100 people attended, including local media, several fire departments, building officials, local elected officials, and community members. We even had three council members, including Kimberly Allen, chair of the public safety committee, sit on the protected side in full bunker gear and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).”
Allen, currently senior vice president of Land Use Entitlements and Strategic Planning for the Wireless Policy Group, LLC, in Issaquah, Washington, was a member of the Redmond City Council for 11 years. “I’ve always supported the fire service and their resources and needs. [Residential sprinklers] were low-hanging fruit for the safety of our residents. It was a no-brainer.”
“When I went to the controlled burn, it so clearly demonstrated how much time is saved when you have sprinklers,” Allen recalls. “It was fascinating—within seconds, the non-sprinklered side was an inferno, whereas on the sprinkler side, we were wet, but the fire was out.”
The UL video aired on Redmond’s public tv channel and was shown to the City Council. “We utilized the demonstration to move the project into the public hearing phase, where we officially proposed a residential ordinance to our city council,” Short remembers. “The hearings were very well attended by the builder groups who opposed the proposal. Ultimately, Mayor Ives continued the hearing over three separate council meetings so that all citizens, for or against, would have the opportunity to provide input.”
Short and his team addressed all the concerns expressed by opponents. “Long story short, it came to a vote. Six council members were at that meeting, and we required four ‘yes’ votes. We were at three to two in favor of the ordinance when we got to the last member,” Short recalls. “That council member started sharing his thoughts and eventually looked at his watch. He said that he had been speaking for about three minutes, which is the time that it takes for a home fire to reach flashover. He said that because fires are burning hotter and faster and escape times are now three minutes or less, he was going to vote yes on the ordinance!”
Redmond’s initiative led the way for other cities to follow. “A lot of times individuals or cities don’t want to be the first one or the testing site,” recalls Ives, former city council member and mayor from 1992 through 2007. “An important part of this initiative’s impact is how it has encouraged other cities to follow suit because of the subsequent documentation by Redmond, clearly demonstrating the significant reduction in losses to life and property in Redmond over the past 19 years.”
“I’m very proud of the work we did and am grateful for the opportunity to work on this project. It was a true partnership,” states Allen. “Todd was outstanding. For someone who’s not a lawyer or legislator, he grasped nuances and was very thorough. We prevailed, and it’s really all due to Todd.”
City Council approval wasn’t the final hurdle for Short and his team, however. In Washington, an ordinance doesn’t become effective until it is approved by the SBCC, which is comprised of elected officials, building trade representatives, fire department personnel, and building department personnel.
The ordinance required eight positive votes in order to pass. No city prior to Redmond had successfully passed a local ordinance for fire sprinklers in all newly built homes. “The day of our approval hearing, our support system showed up in force—our mayor, council members, city attorney, fire chief, deputy chief, and many fire service personnel—to support my presentation. We noticed that there were only eight members present, so we would have to have a unanimous decision in our favor, but when we saw that three of the members were representatives from the building trades, we knew we were dead on arrival.”
Short says he often reflects on this moment. “I still gave our presentation and answered any questions that the council asked. The three builder representatives were aggressive and accusatory in their remarks after our presentation, and with no fanfare, voted down the ordinance with three negative votes to the five in favor.”
He continues, “I realized that there are times that advocacy must stand in the face of opposition and deliver the message regardless of the desired outcome. That is what we did that day. Ironically, I had many people in the audience come up to me afterward and say that the presentation and handling of the questions were outstanding and that we should not be discouraged.”
SBCC rules allowed Short to request a reconsideration hearing, which he did. On April 13, 2007, 11 council members attended, and the ordinance passed with an eight to three vote in favor of approval. Additionally, the SBCC determined that any subsequent jurisdiction in Washington state that passed a local ordinance for fire sprinklers in new homes would only have to provide notice of such ordinance to the SBCC and not have to gain a specific approval—another win.
Extending His Reach
Success in Redmond led to Short becoming further involved at the state and national levels. In 2007, through the Washington State Association of Fire Marshals (WASFM), Short learned that the Washington State Fire Sprinkler Coalition had formed, with NFPA providing direct support. “Greg Rogers was the first coalition chair, and I assisted him during the early years. The coalition was formed to provide education and advocacy for residential fire sprinklers, and one of our main objectives was to mandate fire sprinklers in the state fire code.”
In 2008, the coalition was asked to assist in getting International Code Council (ICC) voting members to the national code hearings in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “I accepted the role of facilitating Washington state fire service members who had voting rights for their jurisdictions to travel to Minneapolis and vote for the code change proposal that would require fire sprinklers in the national consensus International Residential Code (IRC),” notes Short. “Washington state was one of the largest groups that arrived in Minneapolis for the historic passing of the sprinkler requirement in the IRC.”
Short also served on Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) that provided the SBCC recommendations on state code amendments. “I was nominated and affirmed to represent the fire service on the IRC TAG. The fire service proposed code changes to require fire sprinklers through the SBCC code adoption process and the first step of the process was to gain TAG endorsement, but it became evident each cycle that the SBCC was not going pass a residential fire sprinkler mandate,” Short says.
The adoption process for the 2009 IRC was going to be the first time the fire service could propose no changes to the national model code due to the sprinkler requirement passing in Minneapolis. “While the SBCC ultimately pulled the requirement from the code, the fight was not totally in vain because the SBCC did allow for local adoption of the fire sprinkler requirement without having to gain specific SBCC approval,” notes Short. “This allowance was preserved in Washington during a time that we began to hear about other states passing legislation that prohibited fire sprinkler mandates.”
For the SBCC 2018 IRC code adoption, the fire service partnered with the Washington Association of Building Officials (WABO) to propose a requirement for fire sprinklers in all newly built townhomes with more than four units. “This was the first time in our history that a residential sprinkler requirement was recommended by the TAG. The SBCC voted unanimously to pass the code proposal. This was a significant and historical moment,“ Short notes. “Through our success, I learned that advocacy is much more than educating and debating. Truly understanding a different perspective puts you in a much better place to consider where our common ground is located.”
“After the SBCC approved Redmond’s residential ordinance, I experienced a sort of pinnacle,” Short remembers. “That is something I’ll never forget, but then I thought, ‘Now what? What am I you going to do now?”
Short did not stop and rest on his success. “I had to find my ‘next thing.’ Currently, I’m the chair of the Washington State Fire Sprinkler Coalition. I’ve been able to assist other jurisdictions in passing residential ordinances. I’m grateful to be able to come in and help with facts and resources and build relationships with builders. There’s good value in helping others with their different issues.”
While the coalition was very active in providing education at various events, Short realized that these efforts were not translating into additional mandates. “It was during this time that the Best Practices Forum was created,” Short recalls.
The forum provides a place for AHJs, fire sprinkler contractors, designers, plumbers, water purveyors, builders, and anyone else with a stake in the fire sprinkler industry to collaborate on the best practice from permit application to final inspection. “The first forum was very well received,” Short says. “Builders would tell us that each AHJ had their own set of rules and standards that ultimately led to project delays or surprises that added to their cost. The forum has resulted in our publishing the ‘Best Practices Guide’ that can be used by both AHJs and fire sprinkler contractors to anchor to a consistent and voluntary consensus document.”
The forum has also broken down the barriers, resulting in meaningful dialogue and understanding of different perspectives. Short believes that “the forum was the catalyst in our success with the 2018 IRC adoption process.”
AFSA Contractor Member Tracy Moore, president of Moore Fire Protection in Seattle, Washington, co-chairs the forum with Short. “I’ve been in the industry since 1981 and started my company in 1987. Back then, as a contractor, you dealt with all jurisdictions that stood on their own and didn’t work together. Todd changed that entire culture.”
Moore points to another positive outcome of the forum. “I finally convinced two home builders to attend a forum. They came but were very trepidatious. At the meeting, they finally started talking about things happening in the building industry and building codes. We had a great meeting, and it really opened a different point of view for us. Later, both builders thanked me and now attend every meeting as they find it’s very valuable. We’ve found that when we integrate the home builders, we get less pushback on requirements as long as we stay consistent and keep them informed,” Moore says.
Making a Difference
“I think something is really happening here in Redmond, and I’m excited to just move forward and partner with it, to lean into it and not just fight it. We didn’t get anywhere fighting,” Short says. “There are times to make a stand, but if you’re going to try and engage someone and get them to a different way of thinking, combativeness isn’t the way of doing it.”
Short and his team are also beating the drum of the cost of not providing residential sprinklers. “It’s always at least a two-alarm response when we have a residential fire; sometimes up to five different departments assist us. We can’t respond to other calls when we have an active fire. People don’t realize we have 40-70 firefighters or more on scene, depending on the size of the fire. When there are residential sprinklers, we’re shutting off a sprinkler head and dealing with a little bit of water, and the owner often can get right back into their home.”
Short is also addressing water usage concerns. “We calculated the number of gallons of water used in a fire, and in one, we used 400,000 gallons. One sprinkler head running for 10 minutes is 130 gallons.” The numbers speak for themselves.
“We’re onto something by changing people’s perspectives through different ways,” Short comments. “We can’t keep doing an all-or-nothing approach. We had to think differently, and we still do. Gain a partner. That’s what we’re doing locally. We’ve got it to a point where our council defends sprinklers in public without consulting us because they see the value.”
“Todd’s success in passing the residential ordinance in Redmond was the main reason for my nominating him for this award [on behalf of our chapter], but he has also been instrumental and diligent in working to bring fire marshals, sprinkler installers, plumbers, water purveyors, builders, and others that have a stake in sprinklers within the built environment together from all over the state,” comments AFSA Pacific Northwest Chapter Executive Director Ron Greenman. “He is also bringing closer understanding between the alarm and sprinkler industries in his jurisdiction and the state as well advocating to standardize enforcement issues in both the fire sprinkler and fire alarm industries.”
AFSA’s Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award was created to honor individuals not directly involved in the fire sprinkler industry whose efforts have had a national impact in advancing life safety and property protection through the use of fire sprinklers. Each year, AFSA’s Legislative Committee selects a recipient from a pool of nominations. Their nomination is then approved by the AFSA Board of Directors.
“Todd’s nomination for our prestigious Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year was special,” comments AFSA At-Large Director and Legislative Committee Chair Chris Johnson, president and co-founder of Piper Fire Protection in Clearwater, Florida. “He has been the ultimate residential fire sprinkler champion. On behalf of the Legislative Committee, I am absolutely thrilled that Todd was nominated for an award practically custom-made for his contribution to our industry!”
“Todd is a great person and has been a source of encouragement and support to me over the years. I appreciate his leadership at the state level through the Best Practices Forum, the Washington State Association of Fire Marshals, trips for ICC votes, and his effective advocacy for residential sprinklers at the local, state, and national level,” comments Randy Miller, deputy fire marshal of the Camas-Washougal Fire Department and 2017 recipient of this award. “I am pleased that he is receiving this award as he is a worthy recipient. Congratulations, Todd!”
“Todd’s calm disposition and style, coupled with a very thorough work effort—nothing less than excellent was pivotal. I’m so proud of him professionally and personally,” notes Ives. “I really am grateful for his initiative because we’ve saved lives. He truly deserves this award.”
“I am very grateful for this recognition and very appreciative of this award,” Short concludes. “It’s humbling to stand alongside the other recipients.”
Short will be presented with AFSA’s Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award during the general session at AFSA42: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition on Friday, September 8, at the Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. To learn more about and register for AFSA42, visit www.firesprinkler.org/AFSA42.
Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award Recipients
1997 Dan Jones, Chapel Hill, North Carolina Fire Chief
1998 John Vendetta, Hartford Fire Chief
1999 V.J. Bella, Louisiana State Fire Marshal
2000 Dennis Compton, Mesa, Arizona Fire Marshal
2001 George Miller, National Fire Protection Association
2002 Jim Ford, Scottsdale, Arizona Fire Department
2003 Gary Keith, National Fire Protection Association
2004 Jan Gratton, Fire & Life Safety Educator, Covina, California Fire Department
2005 Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)
2006 Meri-K Appy, Home Safety Council
2007 Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)
2008 Ron Hazelton, Home Improvement Expert
2009 Olin Greene, U.S. Fire Administrator
2010 Jim Shannon, National Fire Protection Association
2011 Jeff Feid, State Farm Insurance
2012 Tonya Hoover, California State Fire Marshal
2013 William Barnard, Maryland State Fire Marshal
2014 Peg Paul, Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition
2015 Ed Van Walraven, Aspen, Colorado Fire Marshal
2016 Ed Altizer, Virginia State Fire Marshal
2017 Randy Miller, Camas, Washington Fire Marshal
2018 Richard Smith, Maryland State Firemen’s Association
2019 Amy Acton, Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors
2020 Brian Geraci, Maryland State Fire Marshal
2021 H. Butch Browning, Louisiana State Fire Marshal
2022 Ron Siarnicki, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
2023 Todd Short, Redmond, Washington Fire Department
REFERENCES: Friesen, Carol A. “Where passion meets purpose: it’s where the magic happens, where goals are achieved, and where the impossible becomes possible.” Healthcare Financial Management, vol. 71, no. 6, June 2017, p. 20. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A502120344/AONE?u=anon~702a7499&sid=googleScholar&xid=eb76e957. Accessed 30 June 2023.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you know someone who should be nominated for AFSA’s Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award? AFSA is proud to recognize those individuals who have given extraordinary support to furthering the advancement and awareness of fire sprinklers. All three of AFSA’s annual awards—the Henry S. Parmelee Award, Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award, and Young Professional of the Year Award—accept nominations year-round at www.firesprinkler.org/afsa-awards/. (Member login required.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: D’Arcy Montalvo is public relations manager for the American Fire Sprinkler Association.