In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott recently vetoed a bill that would have pushed the compliance date to retrofit some 5,600 older, taller condominiums with fire sprinklers or other enhanced safety systems back three years from 2019 to 2022.
Scott pointed to the tragic June 14 London high rise fire that killed at least 79 people as he blocked what would have been the third delay of a controversial safety regulation with an unknown price tag. It was originally set to go into effect in 2012.
In North Carolina, Alamance County officials announced June 19 that the price of permits pulled to build new houses would be cut in half if a fire sprinkler system is installed. The goal is to promote public safety, raise awareness about fire sprinklers, which are not required there, and defray costs for residents.
And, in Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill on July 6 that allows master plumbers with 32 hours of specialized training to install fire sprinkler systems in addition to commercial sprinkler contractors. Supporters say increasing the number of certified installers will create competition and bring down prices of the plastic tubing and pipe widely credited with saving lives and property. Opponents question what they consider a short training period.
Political debates about the need and cost of fire sprinklers, which are usually made of cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) tubing or chlorinated PVC (CPVC) pipes, have been flaring up in some parts of the country for years. The aftermath of the London fire is spurring some locales to action.
Built in 1974, the 120-unit Grenfell Tower had no central smoke alarms, no interior or exterior sprinkler systems, and only a single central staircase for residents — 350 by one count — to escape the raging inferno.
"Decisions regarding safety issues are critically important, as they can be the difference between life and death," Scott said in a statement about his veto.
About 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines responded to Grenfell Tower, rescuing about 65 people from the helmet-melting hot structure. It took about 24 hours to extinguish the engulfed block, and the death toll is expected to rise as more victims are identified. About 30 firefighters were injured, mostly from smoke inhalation.
"Fire sprinklers and enhanced life safety systems are particularly effective in improving the safety of occupants in high-rise buildings and ensure the greatest protection to the emergency responders who bravely conduct firefighting and rescue operations," Scott said. "While I am particularly sensitive to regulations that increase the cost of living, the recent London high-rise fire, which tragically took at least 79 lives, illustrates the importance of life safety protections."
Florida already had required fire sprinklers in condos built after 1994. With Scott's veto of the bill, Florida complexes built before 1994 that are taller than 75 feet also must meet the requirement by the end of 2019. Seniors on fixed incomes are worried about what it will cost them as condo associations are likely to tack on special assessments to cover the work.
By mandates and incentives, more jurisdictions are requiring and encouraging fire sprinklers.