By Jon Keller, WBZ Political AnalystBy Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Would the seven lives lost to that horrific Lowell fire yesterday have been saved if their apartment had sprinklers in it?

We don’t know for sure, but we do know there’s a good chance they might have.

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As State Sen. Steve Brewer, a longtime advocate of expanding sprinkler protection puts it: “Having sprinklers is like having a firefighter in your own house, it cuts down on property loss, it cuts down on insurance liability, saves lives and protects firefighters.”

Some newer buildings, residential and commercial, are required to have sprinklers in them, but not all. Most older buildings are exempt from those laws.

It’s not cheap to retrofit an apartment house with sprinklers; figure around $30,000 for a triple-decker, give or take a few thousand. Requiring them more broadly will increase the cost of housing.

And as a recent report by the state board overseeing building regulations and standards points out in the course of downplaying the need for sprinklers, there are only around 3,000 deaths per year in the entire country directly linked to fire and smoke.

So I guess we have to, as a society, ask ourselves a question – do we care enough about those victims to carve the necessary funds to protect them out of the housing industry’s profit margins?

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After all, it’ll cost you $30,000 easy to put in a new kitchen or a couple of new bathrooms.

There are plenty of risks in life we can’t do much about. This is one we can.

But you tell me: is human life – the lives of our firefighters, or perhaps even that of you and yours – worth as much as granite countertops and sunken bathtubs?

Listen to Keller’s commentary

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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Jon Keller