Businesses v. Fire Sprinklers. That could be the headline of a story this week in the Chicago Tribune about a fire sprinkler requirement for businesses in the village of Westmont, Ill.
It appears businesses and the village are at odds over such basic fire protection, but they needn’t be if only Congress would stop stalling and pass the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, or FSIA. The act would provide tax incentives that make sprinklers more affordable.
The story says that the village requires businesses to install fire sprinklers but has put that safety requirement on hold because businesses say they can’t afford to add sprinklers. Here’s what the story had to say:
The village began a moratorium on the sprinkler requirement in 2010 for three years, citing that it had deterred businesses from locating in Westmont. The moratorium expires in spring and the board plans to discuss the issue at a meeting in February.
Trustee Ellen Emery said the moratorium was intended, in part, to allow property owners more time to become compliant. But many businesses have not, she said, adding that building owners, not lessees, should be responsible for installing the fire sprinkler systems.
Still, trustees said many landlords are requesting tenants install the systems.
"If a building is not up to code, a new business isn't going to want to invest their life savings into it," said Emery. "There have been many cases where businesses decided not to open up in town after learning they would have to pay for the installation of the sprinkler system."
Emery says a strip mall on the south end of town is almost completely vacant because the owner doesn't want to pay for the installation of a sprinkler system. Fire officials also told trustees that 65 businesses have not installed a mandatory wireless fire alarm system while 550 buildings have. Of those not in compliance, about 55 are in the downtown area, they said.
The fire code issue comes as the village is considering enacting a tax increment financing (TIF) district on the south end of the community and possibly in the downtown to help revitalize the areas.
A TIF is one answer that communities like Westmont could employ to resolve this issue. But that approach is piecemeal when compared to the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act.
After 100 people were killed in The Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I. in 2003, coalition of groups, including firefighters, fire sprinkler manufacturers and fire and life safety groups have been lobbying Congress to pass FSIA.
According to the latest version, introduced in the House of Representatives in 2011, the act would amend the Internal Revenue Code “to allow: (1) 100% expensing in a current taxable year of the cost of an automated fire sprinkler system, as defined by this Act; and (2) accelerated depreciation (i.e., a 15-year recovery period) of such an automated fire sprinkler system that is installed in a building where the floor of any occupiable story is greater than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access.”