Md. bill would strengthen enforcement of fire sprinkler rules

A county commissioner with 44 years of firefighting experience testified in support of the proposal


Mary Grace Keller
Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Carroll County commissioner with decades of firefighting experience testified in Annapolis on Tuesday in support of a Maryland bill that would require the state fire marshal to enforce residential fire sprinkler requirements.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, who has 30 years of experience as a career firefighter in the state and 44 years as a volunteer firefighter, said Tuesday the Maryland State Firemen’s Association asked if he would speak to the importance of House Bill 823 at a hearing of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, and he did.

The bill seeks to support an existing mandate that requires sprinklers in newly constructed townhouses and one- and two-family homes. The mandate, signed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2012, lacked an enforcement component, according to Wantz, and this session’s bill intends to remedy that by making it so the Office of the State Fire Marshal enforces sprinkler requirements.

In his firefighting experience, Wantz said, he has seen the impact of sprinklers. “They save lives,” he said in an interview after giving his testimony.

Wantz said he approached the testimony from a perspective of “protecting our firefighters,” but he noted that sprinklers benefit everyone involved, not only first-responders. He said he has responded to fires where there were no sprinklers and saw “an incredible amount of damage,” whereas homes with sprinklers were dealt a “whole lot less damage,” most of it because of water and smoke.

The need for the enforcement bill came about as it became apparent that the mandate was not being followed in every jurisdiction, according to Wantz, president of the Board of County Commissioners.

“I think this bill would fix that,” he said. “It’s a good bill. It puts teeth into something that is incredibly important.”

The next step for House Bill 823 would be a committee vote. If the bill passes in committee, then it would go to the House floor for consideration.

The bill is cross-filed as Senate Bill 746, which has a hearing scheduled for March 5 at 1 p.m. in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Wantz is hopeful the bill will be approved without resistance. The commissioner said many firefighters in uniform were in attendance for the hearing and received applause from the committee members.

Former Del. James Malone Jr., who serves on the legislative committee of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association, and Michael “Mike” Faust, the association’s president, also testified in favor of the legislation, Wantz said.

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©2020 the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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