Pa. H.B. 377 is signed, repeals fire sprinkler mandate

HARRISBURG, PA. — On April 25, 2011, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signing into law House Bill 377, repealing a mandate to require automatic sprinkler systems in most new homes. State Representative Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) was the bill’s prime sponsor.

The bill excludes all new one- and two-family residences from the sprinkler requirement that became part of the Uniform Construction Code, effective Jan. 1, 2011. However, builders must still offer buyers the option to install an automatic fire sprinkler system; provide buyers with information that explains the initial and ongoing costs of such a system; and furnish buyers with information on the possible benefits of installing an automatic sprinkler system. The measure also makes technical changes to Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code.

“I am honored to have my sprinkler repeal legislation be the first law enacted during the administration of Gov. Corbett, and I am pleased to have worked with him and his team on this bill,” said Everett. “This legislation came about through the efforts of many people, with a great deal of input coming from all stakeholders. There was a strong sense of bipartisan cooperation in the passage of this bill in both the House and Senate. This is a victory for all Pennsylvanians seeking to build and buy new homes.”

The bill went to Corbett without State Representative Bill Keller’s (D-Phila.) support. He was encouraging a veto.

Keller said the bill, introduced by Everett, would weaken public safety standards considered necessary by building safety experts. He voted against it when it was before the House in March and again when the Senate sent it back with an amendment that would go further than the sprinkler code by stopping Pennsylvania from automatically adopting building code decisions made by the International Code Council and instead require the state to opt-in to changes adopted by the council.

“In addition to repealing the sprinkler mandate, the bill also alters the process by which new requirements are incorporated into Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code,” said Everett. “The goal of the process change is to make it more difficult for special interests groups to push changes, like sprinklers, into the code solely for their own benefit, and to the detriment of the average person wanting to build or buy an affordable home in Pennsylvania.”

Corbett called the bill a “common sense” measure that will help to keep new home prices within the reach of Pennsylvania’s working families.

“Whether or not new homes are equipped with sprinklers should be a decision left to individual consumers and not the government,” said Corbett. “While there are arguments on both sides of this issue, I believe the sprinkler mandate is wrongheaded, and I’m glad the General Assembly sent this bill to my desk.”

Even though Corbett called H.B. 377 a common sense measure, others disagree.

"Unfortunately, Gov. Corbett lacked the political will to do the right thing to safeguard the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said John A. Viniello, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association. “Placing political expediency before life safety will cause life loss in newly constructed homes ... it's not a question of ‘if’ this will happen only a question of ‘when.’ Gov. Schweitzer of Montana vetoed similar legislation ... he gets it, Gov. Corbett doesn't. When he reads these comments he will accuse us of having a vested interest. I'll save him some time ... of course we do ... but unlike the homebuilders who also have a vested interest, the vested interest we represent protects property and save lives and has for more than 100 years...”

According to Jeffrey M. Shapiro, executive director, IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition, as compared to homes built 25 or more years ago, homes built now are more prone to rapid collapse due to lightweight construction materials, reduced escape times (reducing the effectiveness of smoke alarms) due to open floor plans, and are more prone to kill firefighters due to delayed flashover that results from airtight construction techniques.

“Add to these facts (confirmed by recent testing by Underwriters Laboratories funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency) the tendency of modern furnishings to generate more smoke and yield faster, hotter fires than traditional furnishings, and it is easy to see that today's new homes will be far more dangerous in 25 years than homes built 25 years ago are today,” said Shapiro. “Simply put, the legislature and the governor overlooked these facts at the behest of home builders. If you look at the history of safety features in new homes, builders initially opposed smoke alarms. Today, they embrace them. We can only hope that the same will eventually be true about residential fire sprinklers.

“It is also somewhat amazing that the governor and legislators could be duped into believing that sales prices automatically rise or fall based on the cost of construction,” said Shapiro. “Where is the builders' evidence that the costs of new homes in Pennsylvania communities that have required fire sprinklers in new homes for years are any higher than in other communities, and where is the evidence that the new home market in Pennsylvania communities that have required fire sprinklers in new homes for years has suffered in any way as a result of homes being sprinklered?

“It is undeniable that, at some point in the future, Pennsylvania citizens will be injured or killed in fires as a result of the legislature's unwillingness to put public safety ahead of builder profits,” added Shapiro. “To those who lose loved ones, typically young, elderly or disabled, I'm sure that the governor's comments about common sense and affordability won't provide much comfort.”

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