Pressure reverses sprinkler rule

By STATE REP. BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE (D-25)

Below is a letter I sent to Gov. Pat Quinn about proposed new sprinkler system rules. After hearing from many constituents and legislators such as myself, Gov. Quinn asked the Fire Marshall to rescind his proposal late last week and the Fire Marshall complied. Thank you to everyone who contacted my office and the members of JCAR. You may wish to keep this issue on your radar as another form of these regulations may be submitted in the future.

Dear Gov. Quinn:

The state Fire Marshall has proposed a rule that, should it go into effect, could force many out of their homes. The rule would require the installation of sprinkler systems in all residential buildings over four stories.

I’ve heard from scores of high-rise tenants, in condominiums and co-ops, that the proposal could put them out of business. Retrofits are costly, and sprinkler systems are especially expensive. One estimate suggests that in a high-rise built in the 1950s, sprinkler installation would cost the owner of a one-bedroom apartment $35,000 and, of course, the price for larger units would be proportionally higher. Few co-ops and condos keep reserves of a size to cover these costs. And most people don’t have the extra cash on hand to cover them either.

We’re all in favor of safety, but many argue that this new requirement is unnecessary to protect life and health. It even applies to buildings with significant fire barriers already in place. Both the Chicago City Building Department and the Chicago Fire Department call them unnecessary and burdensome. Chicago has a very strong fire safety code already, and an exceptionally low fire fatality rate.

In addition, nothing in the state statutes, as far as I can see, gives the Fire Marshall the authority to promulgate these rules. Agencies are supposed to be limited in what they do only to the missions the legislature and the governor have prescribed. The Fire Marshall is totally out of line in proposing regulations that have no basis in state law.

The Fire Marshall should propose fire code changes to the full membership of the General Assembly rather than through rule changes which are considered only by the 12 members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. I hope you will ask the Fire Marshall to withdraw his proposal. Thanks for your time and attention.