Experts say: "U.S. sprinkler mandate by 2007"

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Saturday, October 1, 2005

QUINCY, Mass.--Fire protection officials believe a recently approved fire sprinkler model code is further evidence that fire sprinklers will soon be required in all nursing homes.
"It's an indication of where we're going. Within a year or so, there will be some sort of federal mandate requiring fire sprinklers," predicted Robert Solomon, assistant vice president of building and life safety codes for the National Fire Protection Association.
In August, the NFPA issued two model safety codes that will require fire sprinklers in all nursing homes, newly constructed one- and two-family homes and entertainment venues with 100-person or more capacity.
In and of itself, the NFPA issuing a model code does not equate to a mandate. However, these model codes do affect national, state and local legislation and regulations, said Kevin Kelly, manager of codes for the National Fire Sprinkler Association.
In formulating their own local codes, states and municipalities use model codes for guidance. Likewise, the federal government looks at adherence to codes when it decides which entities--such as nursing homes--should receive federal funds.
For installers of sprinkler systems, a mandate would mean more business, Kelly said.
Mandates are not always popular, but Solomon and Kelly pointed out that two states showed a willingness to mandate sprinklers in 2003 after 31 people died in two separate nursing home fires in Connecticut and Tennessee. Both states subsequently passed mandates requiring sprinklers in new and existing nursing homes.
Other influencing factors that point to an eventual federal mandate, Solomon said.
Last fall, the American Health Care Association, an advocacy group for nursing home operators and owners, issued a policy encouraging members to retrofit nursing homes with automatic sprinklers.
In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that administers federal funds to nursing homes, hinted strongly that it favors the installation of sprinklers, Solomon said.
CMS is said to be contemplating a future rule requiring nursing homes to retrofit with fire sprinklers if they haven't already.
Solomon and others believe that some federal funding received by nursing homes may soon be contingent upon the facilities having sprinklers.
In addition, Congress is looking at several options to encourage the installation of sprinklers in nursing homes, Solomon said.
Among the possible legislative measures he's heard about are: 100-percent reimbursement to nursing homes for the cost of installations; access to low-interest, government-secured loans to help finance nursing home sprinkler installations; and property valuation adjustments for nursing home-owners who do install fire sprinklers, so they are not burdened with higher property taxes as a result of the installation.