Advocates push vote on sprinkler bill

Thursday, September 1, 2005

WASHINGTON--Proposed national legislation that would give homeowners and commercial property owners financial incentives to retrofit their buildings with fire sprinklers may come up for a vote as early as this fall.
Called the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, this legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Service code to give tax advantages to anyone who retrofits a home or commercial property with fire sprinklers. Specifically, the bill would accelerate the depreciation schedule for fire sprinklers from 39 years for commercial buildings and 27-and-one-half years for residential properties to five years for both.
In addition to life-saving benefits of sprinklers, the legislation would be a boon to the industry.
In late July, Jim Dalton, director of the National Fire Sprinkler Association's Washinton office, met with industry advocates and Congressional sponsors to plot strategy for moving the legislation forward.
"Retrofitting buildings would be a huge step forward for fire protection in America," Dalton said.
The need for fire sprinklers is particularly acute in certain commercial buildings, such as nursing homes, older high-rise buildings, entertainment venues and student housing, he said. Last year, fires killed a total of 31 people at two nursing homes, one in Connecticut and one in Tennessee.
"It's hard to believe that there are 4,200 unsprinklered (non sprinkler) nursing homes out there," Dalton said.
House and Senate versions of the bill are in committee and unlikely to be brought to vote on their own merit. Supporters plan to attach the bill as an amendment to tax reconciliation legislation that will be voted on this month.
If they do not succeed this fall, Dalton is optimistic for a vote in the second session, which begins in January 2006.
In the meantime, Dalton and others continue to gain support for the bill. In July, 10 more House members signed on as co-sponsors, bringing the total to 113. The Senate bill has 12 cosponsors. Support in both houses is bipartisan.
"It's critical to have supporters call their congressional representatives," said John A. Viniello, president of NFSA. "The way to get bills to move (onto the floor for a vote) is by increasing the number of cosponsors."
Tyco Fire Protection is one of many fire industry companies interested in advancing the bill.
"What we've done is make our employees aware of the act and aware of the importance to the industry and to the country as a life safety issue. We've encouraged them to call their representative and senators to urge them to support the bill," said Bob Brinkman, president of Tyco Fire Products.
Efforts to raise awareness about the bill have taken place across other Tyco segments and divisions and at many other fire industry companies, Brinkman said.