Sprinkler incentive bill moving

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Monday, March 1, 2004

WASHINGTON - Following a rash of fatal fires over the past few months, involving a motel, elderly care facilities and a high-rise office building, a bill that would allow tax breaks for the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems is gaining co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.

Although the additional cosponsors - 106 so far - are not directly linked to the recent fire deaths, the incidents “are certainly going to keep the conscious level up,” said Jim Dalton, director of public fire protection for the National Fire Sprinkler Association.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania and James Langevin of Rhode Island in April of 2003, seeks to classify sprinklers as five-year property under federal tax codes in order to depreciate the cost. Supporters of the bill hope that providing tax breaks on the systems will be an appealing incentive for building owners to upgrade the life safety systems on their property.

And while many ordinances are being passed on the local level that require the installation of sprinkler systems in new construction, even in single family homes, the recent fires occurred in structures that were grandfathered under current sprinkler regulations or not required to have sprinklers installed at all.

“The only way to get retrofits done is to solve the financial side of things,” Dalton said.

At press time, the bill was in front of the House Committee on Ways and Means; the chairman of that group was deciding whether or not to hold a hearing on the proposed legislation. Seven of the co-sponsors of the bill are also Ways and Means members, Dalton said.

Lobbying firm Fierce & Isakowitz has been working since Oct. 1, 2003, on behalf of the ad hoc committee who wrote the bill. That committee includes members from the NFSA, American Fire Sprinkler Association, National Fire Protection Association and other groups in the fire industry.