Orland Park, Ill. — Illinois fire protection districts may soon have a new tool to help them encourage and reward homeowner fire safety efforts. A bill introduced in January 2008 by Rep. Donald L. Moffitt would enable the board of trustees of any fire protection district in the state to award grants to single-family homeowners when they install a fire sprinkler system. The bill passed both the House and Senate this spring and awaits the signature of Governor Rod Blagojevich.
The governor is expected to sign the bill, a representative of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board said, noting that the bill passed the House unanimously. The bill is not a mandate and does not require state funding. It simply allows fire protection districts to set up incentive programs if they so choose.
“It is seldom that a new idea passes the General Assembly on the first attempt,” said Tom Harnsberger of the Illinois Association of Fire Protection Districts, which recommended the concept. “This legislation is truly ground-breaking. It's a great step in protecting residents.”
Harnsberger, who is also treasurer of the Carroll Fire Protection District Board of Trustees, points out that the bill will return some of the real estate taxes a property owner pays if they take steps to reduce the load on their district.
“It will be up to each individual district to assess the impact residential sprinklers may have on the workload of the district and to set up the grant program that meets the needs of their district,” Harnsberger said.
“This is outstanding work by IAFPD and our lawmakers,” said Tom Lia, the executive director of the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board. “They've come up with a smart way to help local jurisdictions improve public safety by rewarding residential property owners who make an investment in home fire sprinklers.”
The bill, HB4687, was sponsored in the House by Representatives Mike Boland and Michael K. Smith, and in the Senate by Sen. Michael W. Frerichs. It would be effective immediately upon becoming law.
“The installation of a residential fire sprinkler system significantly reduces the likelihood of a major fire occurring in a home,” said George K. Michehl, executive director with the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association. “The IAFPD recognized that and, as a result, recommended the grant program to provide some relief to those who make this life-saving decision. Nearly 80% of all fire fatalities occur in the residential setting. Why not encourage people to install residential sprinkler systems?”
Even though homes are where the vast majority of fire deaths occur, fire sprinkler technology is still an emerging trend in single-family homes, Lia explained.
“We know that property owners are responsive to financial incentives and they deserve to be rewarded for their efforts,” Lia said. “This bill will certainly encourage more homeowners to improve their properties with fire sprinkler protection.”
Importantly, the bill incorporates quality control, ensuring the systems are installed and maintained in accordance with national standards and certified locally.
“I believe the time has come for all new homes to be equipped with modern fire sprinkler systems,” Michehl added. “This is a great first step to provide the encouragement to do so.”
“I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better piece of legislation than this,” Lia said. “Fire sprinklers provide the ultimate defense against fire, protecting not just Illinois citizens but also our first responders. This bill will lead to more fire sprinkler protection and greater safety for all.”