Connecticut nursing home bill for sprinkler systems dies in Senate

Fatal fire prompted attempt to strengthen rules
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Friday, August 1, 2003

HARTFORD, Conn. - A bill requiring all Connecticut nursing home facilities to install an automatic fire extinguishing system by July 1, 2005, failed to make it out of the Senate following passage within the state’s House of Representatives.

A fatal fire at the Greenwood Health Center in Hartford, which eventually claimed the lives of 16 people, prompted the creation of the legislation, said Jack Jansen, American Fire Sprinkler Association chapter chairman for Connecticut, who is also the mechanical contract manager for SimplexGrinnell, East Berlin, Conn.

The bill, HB 6579, was proposed by the Public Safety Committee in early March and was eventually passed by the House on May 22. It was moved to the Senate calendar a few days later, but no action was taken before both houses adjourned for the summer.

“This bill was never voted on in the Senate and therefore died on our calendar,” said Jacqueline Shettle, Senate calendar clerk. She added because the regular session ended, “it is unlikely that it will be voted on this year.”

As written, the bill would have required any nursing home facility, regardless of size, to submit plans from a licensed engineer for the installation of a fire extinguishing system to the local fire marshal, building inspector or state fire marshal by July 1, 2004, with installation to take place no later than July 1, 2005.

Jansen said while most, if not all, newly constructed nursing homes and other elderly care facilities have fire sprinkler systems on each floor, older establishments of less than four floors may not have them nor have been required to have them under existing grandfather clauses.

He said just as with the fatal nightclub fire in Rhode Island that claimed 100 lives, the Connecticut nursing home fire brought the lack of required systems in nursing homes to the forefront.

“The problem in Rhode Island and in Connecticut,” he said, “are these so-called grandfathered places that unless there is a change in the type of occupancy, aren’t required to have sprinkler systems.”

Jansen said although the Connecticut chapter of the AFSA didn’t get involved in the writing of the failed legislation - in large part because it came about so quickly - “I think it is something our organization will get involved in” for the next session.

The bill also contained language that would have required new home contractors to discuss with consumers the installation of an automatic fire extinguishing system in a new home.

Jansen said some communities have required developers to add fire sprinkler systems to newly built homes if they are located outside a regularly serviced fire district. Other types of residential dwellings that typically have sprinklers installed, he said, include group homes, mental health facilities, multi-family dwellings and some high-end residences.

The wording in the bill, he said, “is kind of weak,” because it only requires contractors to “acquaint them (homeowners) with the fact of fire sprinklers, but it isn’t a mandate.”