After tragic fires, 5 advocacy groups urge Congress to pass 2 public safety bills

The Build Back Better and High-Rise Fire Sprinkler Incentive acts include public housing upgrades and a fire sprinkler tax incentive

By Leila Merrill

WASHINGTON — In light of the tragic fires in Philadelphia and New York in the first few days of this year, five U.S. fire service organizations are urging members of Congress to pass legislation designed to improve fire safety in public housing and older high rises.

A fire at a public housing rowhouse in Philadelphia on Jan. 5 killed 12 people, including eight children. On Sunday, Jan. 9, a high-rise apartment fire in the Bronx killed 17 people, including eight children. At least 60 were reportedly injured in that fire.

Fires in Philadelphia and New York have killed 29 people and left dozens injured. Neither building had fire sprinklers.
Fires in Philadelphia and New York have killed 29 people and left dozens injured. Neither building had fire sprinklers. (Photo/AMU)

Neither building had sprinklers.

"It's going on 30 years since Congress passed the Federal Fire Safety Act in 1992, requiring newly built multi-family housing units to have fire sprinklers," said Shane Ray, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association. "The problem is that the law did not require fire sprinklers for the existing units."

The NFSA, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Fallen Fire Fighter Foundation, International Association Fire Chiefs, and the National Association of State Fire Marshals want Congress to pass both the Build Back Better Act and the High-Rise Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act. The five groups said in a news release Monday that these bills would help prevent future fire tragedies and help ensure firefighters’ physical and mental safety.

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates 570,000 multi-family public housing units were constructed prior to the sprinkler requirement. But fixing this problem is within our reach, with $53 billion in public housing upgrades, including fire sprinklers, in the Build Back Better bill that passed the House last year," said Ray. “This is another reminder why we need to pass that legislation now."

"The apartment building in the Bronx was privately owned. However, there is legislation pending in Congress right now called the High-Rise Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (H.R. 6192/S.3346) that would provide a tax incentive to property owners to install fire sprinklers. Congress needs to move this legislation immediately and not wait for another loss of life before acting," Ray said.

Chief Ronald J. Siarnicki of the NFFF stated, "on top of the unbearable loss for the residents and communities impacted; there is an incredible toll on firefighters, too. It's too hard to get over the sights and smells of responding to tragedies like these. There is a physical and mental toll in addition to the toxic environment that firefighters are exposed to, which cause cancer at an alarming rate. This risk and loss could easily be mitigated if the law required adequate fire protection in these buildings, especially fire sprinkler systems."

Fire Chief Kenneth W. Stuebing, president and chair of the board of the IAFC, said, "Fire sprinklers have a proven history of saving lives. We urge Congress to prevent future tragedies by funding fire and life safety improvements in public housing."

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