Fire chief: Fire sprinkler decision ‘huge win’ for state fire services

Fire chief: Fire sprinkler decision ‘huge win’ for state fire services

State fire departments are breathing a sigh of relief after a longstanding requirement regarding fire sprinklers dramatically changed Wednesday morning, then changed back a couple hours later.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, specifically the Department of Safety and Professional Services, decided to stay with the existing requirement for fire sprinklers in apartment buildings after initially announcing Wednesday that they were going to implement a new plan.

Bill Sullivan, with the Madison Fire Department, said the current requirement has saved lives.

“We go to many fires, actually; we think we’re going to a fire sprinkler activation and come to find out as we’re cleaning up, they actually had a fire in a small trash can and the sprinkler system put it out. The occupants didn’t even know they had a fire,” Sullivan said.

The department had plans in place to get rid of the current sprinkler requirement, stating all apartment buildings with three to 20 units must install sprinklers. The new plan would have required only complexes with 20 or more units to install sprinklers, but the department scrapped it.

Around 40 Wisconsin fire chiefs brought proof that sprinklers work to the Madison Common Council last Thursday, urging officials to take action and keep the new plan from taking effect.

“There would be a major impact from our perspective, because as the economy is growing again and many new apartments are coming back online, being constructed as we speak, there would be a much higher taxation on our services and resources,” Sullivan said.

Sun Prairie Fire Chief Christopher Garrison had the same thought. His department recently responded to a 14-unit apartment complex fire, where they lost many resources.

Garrison told News 3 they were concerned that would become a regular incident, considering the city has multiple complexes being built on the west side of town and everyone could have been affected if the new plan had been put into place. He went on to say the department’s decision to keep the existing requirement is a “huge win for the fire service.”

The department is also considering a requirement that could prevent electrical fires.

Wisconsin fire chiefs, firefighters, burn survivors and electrical and fire inspectors sent a statement Wednesday against the measure. They’re calling on the governor to require homes and buildings to install circuit interrupters in buildings and homes, saying they will reduce the risk of electrical fires and electrocutions. The department has yet to make a final decision.