Step Forward, Fall Backward

Step Forward, Fall Backward



There’s a bill pending in the House of Representatives, H.R. 3704, that could have a far-reaching impact on America’s fire problem. It definitely would have had an effect on the lives of the more than 400 Americans who’ve died in hotel and motel fires in the past five years.

But as it’s written, I cannot support it.

The bill would require every hotel and motel (and other transient guest lodges having more than five rooms to rent) to install adequate smoke detectors and an automatic sprinkler system. The bill empowers the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, acting through the U.S. Fire Administration, to propose and promulgate use and installation regulations to be adopted by each state. The requirements would take effect immediately for new construction for which plans and specifications have not been filed. The retrofit provision would be enforced in existing structures seven years after state adoption of the regulations.

The authors—Doug Walgren, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Sherwood Boehlert and Manuel Lujan, Jr., Republicans from New York and New Mexico respectively—appear to have covered many bases, at least to that point. It’s the remaining portions that cause me to question and then to snicker.

The question arises when we read that historic buildings would, essentially, be exempt. What do the sponsors have against historic buildings? This seems like a sure way to dwindle our supply of links to our heritage.

The snicker comes when we read the penalty to be imposed for noncompliance. State adoption and enforcement are required within one year after promulgation of FEMA’s regulations. States failing to satisfy the administrator with compliance evidence won’t be permitted to send students to the National Fire Academy. But it’s the noncompliance states that will need the additional structural fire training!

Most of us know of the legal and bureaucratic frustrations that accompany all sprinkler legislation. We’ve found through experience that results in this area depend on how severely the penalties for noncompliance affect the business sector and not the fire service. Hence the snicker.

The authors of H.R. 3704 want your feedback. They know you’re interested and want your questions and comments. Congressional staff members Carrye Brown, David Goldston, and Maryanne Bach will be glad to receive your calls at (202) 225-8844, or letters addressed to 2321 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

It appears that these representatives want to help us do our jobs. Let’s also help them do theirs and put some teeth in this legislation.

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