Congressional Documents and Publications
House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Hearing; A Review of Building Codes and Mitigation Efforts to Help Minimize the Costs Associated with Natural Disasters.";
Testimony by Hank Clemmensen, First Vice President International Association of Fire Chiefs
Good morning, Chairman Denham, Ranking Member Norton, and members of the subcommittee. I am Chief Hank C. Clemmensen of the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District located in Inverness, Illinois, and the 1st Vice President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). The International Association of Fire Chiefs represents the leadership of the nation's fire, rescue, and emergency medical services (EMS), including rural volunteer Fire departments, suburban combination departments, and metropolitan career departments. I thank the committee today for the opportunity to represent the views of local Firefighters and EMS responders in the review of model building codes and mitigation efforts and how they help to minimize the costs associated with natural disasters.
Despite recent progress, America still suffers from one of the worst Fire problems in the civilized world. In 2010, there were more than 1.3 million fires in America, which resulted in the deaths of more than 3,100 Americans and more than 17,000 injuries. n1 The economic cost of these Fires is equally compelling. For example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that the economic loss due to fires in 2009 (direct and indirect, unreported and reported) was $16.1 billion. n2 When one factors in the total cost of economic and human losses, and the cost of provisions to mitigate or prevent the cost of Fires, including fire departments, fire protection equipment and construction, and insurance, the total cost of fire in 2009 was $331 billion. n3 This amount was equal to 2.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic policy in that year. n4
Model commercial and residential building and fire codes serve as a key way to mitigate the damage done by fires and other events, including winds, rain, and earthquakes. Using a consensus-driven process, they are designed by fire protection officials, engineers, architects, construction experts and all other interested parties to protect both people and property from human-caused events or natural disasters. These codes provide basic requirements for the construction and design of a structure and fire prevention requirements for the building before it is occupied. The fire service participates in the development of these codes to make sure that modern construction is safe both for the public and first responders.
The fire and emergency services know that model commercial and residential building and fire codes will help prevent the tragic loss caused by extreme weather and natural disasters. For example, the World Bank reported that the "1988 earthquake in Armenia had half the energy release of the 1989 earthquake in Loma Prieta near San Francisco, California, and yet caused 25,000 deaths compared to 100 in San Francisco. n5" In 2003, similarly powerful earthquakes occurred in Bam, Iran and Paso Robles, California. The earthquake in California killed two people, while the one in Iran killed 41,000. The World Bank reported that the "strict adherence to tough zoning and building codes" in
California was responsible for the lives saved. n6 In addition, the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) found that the adoption of high wind provisions in residential buildings reduced damage to houses in Florida. After Hurricane Charley in 2004, the claim frequency for houses built after 1996 (when Charlotte County, Florida, enacted high wind standards) was reduced by 60 percent and the claims were 42 percent less severe when a loss occurred. n7
Unfortunately, some jurisdictions do not adopt model building codes or update them until after a disaster occurs. In Illinois, there was a greater focus on adopting sprinkler codes for schools after the Our Lady of Angels fire in 1958. Sadly, more than 90 students and teachers perished in that fire before sprinkler codes were changed.
The IAFC believes that H.R. 2069, the Safe Building Code Incentive Act will encourage states to adopt the most current commercial and residential building codes proactively. States that adopt these model building codes will receive an additional four percent of the funding available for post-disaster hazard mitigation. This funding is dispensed under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), which is designed to help state and local governments implement long-term hazard mitigation efforts after a major disaster declaration. By adding the incentive to the HMGP, Congress will create a virtuous cycle in which states receive more funds to take the necessary steps to protect their citizens.
As the subcommittee begins to consider this legislation, we would like to raise three points for your consideration:
1) States should not be able to opt out of — or reduce provisions to — model commercial and residential codes and still receive the four percent bonus. To qualify for the four percent incentive, states should be required to adopt the whole model code and not be allowed to opt out of any of the substantial code requirements. For example, the 2009 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) included a requirement for residential sprinklers. Many states opted out of this particular requirement, when they adopted the 2009 IRC.
The IAFC is greatly concerned about this decision. There is clear evidence that fire sprinklers save lives. According to the NFPA, sprinklers operated effectively in "88 percent of reported fires where sprinklers were present in the fire area and o the fire was large enough to activate sprinklers. n8 " A report by the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, which passed a residential fire sprinkler ordinance in 1985, found that one or two sprinkler heads "controlled or extinguished the fire 92 percent of the time, with the majority of the exceptions a result of flammable liquid incidents. n9" Because of their effectiveness, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends the installation of Fire sprinklers in residences. n10
The decisions by some states to opt out of the residential Fire sprinkler requirements in the 2009 IRC presents a serious problem for public safety. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 66 percent of all civilian Fire injuries from 2008 to 2010 occurred as a result of Fires in residential buildings. n11 So, the decision to opt out of the residential Fire sprinkler requirement will do nothing to mitigate two-thirds of the casualties caused by Fire.
2) Local jurisdictions should be allowed the latitude to adopt more stringent building and fire codes than the state minimum model code requirements. Especially in large states, the various regions in a state may face different threats. For example, the wind resistance requirements for buildings in south Florida and the Panhandle vary, because of the threat of hurricanes. When considering a state's commercial and residential model codes as described in H.R. 2069, we urge the President to make sure that the codes are a minimum requirement, so that local jurisdictions have the ability to strengthen their requirements to address local hazards.
3) The legislation should include model commercial and residential building codes and fire codes. Both building codes and Fire codes work together in tandem. In many communities, a building code addresses the design and construction of a building, while the Fire code addresses the specific life safety hazards associated with the use of the facility. The adoption of both commercial and residential building codes and fire codes at the state level will ensure that there is a minimum level of fire protection in local communities across the nation.
On behalf of the leadership of America's fire and EMS departments, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify at today's hearing. The IAFC believes that model commercial and residential building and fire codes play an important role in mitigating the dangers of fire and other natural disasters. H.R. 2069 is an incentive-based and cost-effective proposal to protect homes and improve the safety of the American public and first responders. We urge the Congress to consider this legislation, and look forward to working with the subcommittee. I am available to answer any questions that the subcommittee may have.
n1 http://www.usfa. fcnia.gov/statistics/cstimatcs/nfpa/index.shtm.
Copyright 2012 Federal Information and News Dispatch, Inc.
n2 John R. I lall, Jr., The Total Cost of Fire in the United Stales, National I'ire Protection Association. February 2012, p.iii.
n5 Charles Kenny, Why Do People Die in Earthquakes? The Costs, Benefits and Institutions of Disaster Risk Reduction in Developing Countries, The World Bank, January 2009, pp. 2-3.
n7 "Hurricane Charley: Natural Force vs. Structural Strength, " Institute for Business and Home Safety, 2012, p. 5.
n8 John R. Hall, Jr. U.S. Experience with Sprinklers, National Fire Protection Association, March 2012, p. i.
n9 Assistant Chief Jim Ford, Automatic Sprinklers: A 10 Year Study: A detailed histoty of the effects of the automatic sprinkler code in Scoltsdale, Arizona, Rural/Metro Fire Department, Scottsdale, Arizona. 1997, P- 4-
n10 http://\vw\v. usfa.fema.gov/about/position_statements/sprinklers_position.shtm.
Read this original document at: http://republicans.transportation.house.gov/Media/file/TestimonyEDPB/2012-07-24-Clemmensen.pdf