Sprinkler activity in Charleston

Thursday, August 2, 2007

CHARLESTON, S.C.--In an effort to encourage businesses to install fire sprinkler systems, the city of Charleston on July 24 eliminated tap fees for businesses that install fire sprinkler systems and it appears that at least one other South Carolina city, Columbia, may follow suit.
In addition, state Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) plans to introduce a bill to the state legislature that would give tax credits to businesses that install sprinklers.
This governmental activity comes in the wake of a June 18 fire in this city in which nine fire fighters were killed. The June fire occurred in a Super Sofa furniture store that wasn't equipped with sprinklers. That particular store has since installed sprinklers.
Tap fees are the charge (often in the tens of thousands of dollars) that a business must pay to hook up its fire sprinkler system to a municipal water supply. Businesses often cite the fee as a reason for not installing sprinkler systems.
Regulation of the tap fees in Charleston falls under the jurisdiction of the Charleston Water Systems Board of Commissioners, which voted unanimously to eliminate the fees.
"The staff and the board is proud to have taken the first step to eliminate these upfront costs," said Jenny Hagan, spokeswoman for the board. "We hope this will encourage existing businesses to retrofit with sprinklers or new businesses to install them."
The city mayor, Joe Riley, had earlier called for the elimination of the fees. Likewise, Columbia city Mayor Bob Coble has called for the elimination of fees in his city.
The Hospitality Association of South Carolina is also considering endorsing efforts to make sprinklers more affordable for businesses.
"Obviously sprinkler systems in commercial buildings, businesses, hotels and residences save lives and cut the cost of damage," said Tom Sponseller, president of the association. Sen. Thomas cannot file his bill until December, so the association does not have a finished bill to consider. However, when the board meets in three weeks it will discuss what the bill might look like and whether to endorse it "under different scenarios."
Gary Teachout is the owner of Myrtle Beach Fire and Safety Group, which installs fire and security systems. The sprinkler division is called Coastal Fire Protection. He believes that the reduction of tap fees and monthly user fees will encourage the installation of sprinklers, but notes that it's the codes that will drive adoption.
He noted that a brand new shopping center with many attached buildings just went up in his area and it does not have any sprinklers. "You just shake your head," he said.
Wayne Waggoner, regional manager of the National Fire Sprinkler Association said that states in the Southeast historically used the SBC codes (now part of the International Code Council) and those "states that used the SBC at the time of construction don't have as high fire sprinkler standards" as elsewhere.
This part of the country "is playing catch up," he said.