Fatal nursing home fires prompt sprinkler bills

Monday, March 1, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A series of fatal fires at nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the state has prompted the state’s legislative members to draft more than 10 bills, all relating to requiring sprinkler systems and better fire protection in nursing homes.

Two of those bills have been sponsored by Sen. Thelma Harper (D-Nashville), who

not only wants previously grandfathered facilities to install sprinkler systems, but also wants to require facilities to notify its residents if they do not have a sprinkler system.

Harper called the fatal fires atrocious, noting that one of them killed 17 people. She said many facilities throughout the state were grandfathered in the early 1990s through a law that required only new facilities to install sprinkler systems. She did not have an exact number of how many nursing homes do not have sprinklers.

So far people in the life safety industry have been supportive of the proposed bills, said Harper. But, members of the state’s health care community have raised concerns over the cost to install sprinklers and worried about how soon it could be required.

“One of our drawbacks is trying to find a way to facilitate some of the costs to some of the nursing facilities,” said Harper, who hopes to find aid for sprinkler installation projects. “One of the fears that we have is that if we require immediate installation, immediate retrofitting, that many of those businesses will go out of business and there will be a deluge of people that have no place to stay.”

Harper expects the Senate’s General Welfare Committee will create a subcommittee shortly to consolidate the 10 bills into one. She hopes to become the lead sponsor of any newly created bill, since the latest fatal nursing home in the state occurred in her district.