Sunday, June 24, 2007
Business community needs to back sprinklers
JUNE 22, 2007 - - Too many people have died because South
Carolina doesn't require old buildings to have sprinkler systems.
Just this week, nine firefighters in Charleston died in an
inferno at a sofa store and warehouse only a mile from my
Common sense dictates that if a sprinkler system had been
in that building, those firefighters might be alive today.
At the least, a functioning sprinkler system would have retarded
the intensity of the fire so it might not have become a killer.
"Sprinkler systems have proven time and time again that
they put the fire in check so we can go in there and do the
job we need to do," said Michael Parrotta of Myrtle Beach,
president of the S.C. Professional Firefighters Association.
of several hundred fire vehicles today passed a funeral
home near the Sofa Super Store on U.S. Highway 17 during
a memorial procession in honor of the fallen firefighters.
Just three years ago in Greenville, six people died in a
fire at a Comfort Inn that didn't have sprinklers.
If something isn't done, we'll keep having these tragedies.
Two years ago, a proposal to require hotels without sprinklers
to be retrofitted with them got so watered down in the General
Assembly that it's embarrassing. Instead of requiring hotels
to put in sprinklers, the 2005 law required them to display
notices to inform guests that rooms didn't have sprinklers.
How many more folks have to die before South Carolina wakes
up to the reality that we need to require safer commercial
buildings? Right now, new buildings have to have sprinkler
systems. Old buildings that undergo major renovations or make
major changes to occupancy requirements have to be upfitted
with sprinkler systems.
But old buildings that are just old buildings are grandfathered
from modern rules. They don't have to have sprinkler systems,
a reality that could, in fact, exacerbate potential problems.
If, for example, a chintzy business owner knows he needs to
make a major fix to a building, he may decide to refrain from
the fix if he knows he'll be forced to put in a sprinkler
system too. The end result: the old building becomes less
safe. In other words, current state law kind of encourages
older buildings to become potentially even more unsafe.
State Sen. David Thomas, the Greenville Republican who tried
to get hotels to make sprinkler retrofits a couple of years
back, this week said he would make a hard push next year for
all commercial buildings to be required to have sprinkler
Charleston firefighters stand at attention during a
memorial procession in honor of the fallen firefighters.
"You can't have these kinds of things taking place [in
the future] because of obstructionist attitudes in South Carolina,"
While business owners may whine about costs,contractors say
sprinkler upfits cost no more than $3 per square foot. Although
businesses also may have to undergo modifications to bring
bigger water pipes into the building, these costs don't seem
too extreme to create a safer building and, potentially, to
Thomas added business owners in the long run could actually
SAVE money by making adding sprinkler systems. First, he said
his proposal would call for business owners to get tax credits
for installing sprinkler systems. Second, he said commercial
building owners should realize additional savings because
insurance costs will be lower for buildings with sprinklers.
"This can only be a win-win for South Carolina,"
Thomas said. "They will fight me like all get-out over
this because there has to be an outlay initially, even though
they will be able to make it up over time."
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Naysayers already are circling - - even before a bill is
introduced. Charleston GOP Sen. Glenn McConnell told The
Post and Courier he liked Thomas's overall concept, but
he didn't want to mandate business owners to install sprinkler
systems because it might put some out of business.
"You can't take a perfectly sound building and start
ordering people to refit them, where they would have to rip
the ceilings out of historical buildings and stuff,"
McConnell told the paper.
Business leaders need to be at the front of the line to support
a measure to help bring South Carolina workplaces into the
21st century. And state lawmakers need to have the backbone
next year to make South Carolina safer. We don't need any
more tragedies because of the lack of sprinkler systems.
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