Three people died in a three-alarm fire in Fairfax County, and many people were displaced [Metro, July 12]. The heroic actions of the responding firefighters probably limited the lives lost and the destruction.

Fires will happen, but the effects can be minimized. The most effective way to stop a fire is to reach it in the early stages. The only way to do this is with built-in fire suppression systems, commonly called sprinkler systems.

When the Manchester Lakes complex was built, I am sure that Fairfax County fire officials recommended that the structures have sprinkler systems. But because a fire suppression system is not required by the Uniform Statewide Building Code, the builder could ignore the recommendation.

The blame for the fatalities rests with the Virginia General Assembly and the Department of Housing, which will not grant localities the ability to enact safer building codes.

Localities ought to have a code that meets the needs of the community. I am sure Fairfax fire officials would recommend an ordinance requiring sprinkler systems in lightweight construction garden apartments if the county had the power to enact such a standard.

THOMAS M. HAWKINS

Gainesville

The writer is a retired Arlington and Alexandria fire chief.