Firefighters oppose rollback of fire sprinkler regulations

No sprinkler requirement for 20 units or less

Fire chiefs and firefighters from across state came together at a Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services to voice opposition to proposed changes in safety requirements.

The fire chiefs who testified expressed concern about a proposal that would remove requirements for fire sprinkler systems in multi-family dwellings with 20 or fewer units. Currently fire sprinkler systems are required for any building with three or more apartment units.

“This change will kill residents and will kill firefighters,” said Christopher Garrison, fire chief with the Sun Prairie Fire Department.

Garrison points to a fire last Monday in a 16-unit apartment building in Sun Prairie. That building was not equipped with a fire sprinkler system because it was built before requirements were put in place. A small fire in the basement quickly spread through the entire building, displacing 14 families.

“A single fire sprinkler head would have controlled that fire, would have kept it from spreading and certainly would have prevented that type of damage that occurred in the apartment building,” said Mark Mlekush, fire inspector for Sun Prairie.

Mlekush also testified during the public hearing to concerns about materials used in new construction that can burn more rapidly.

“Had this building been constructed under today’s standard, without fire sprinklers, I can promise you there would have been a loss of life,” Mlekush said.

While reducing requirements for fire sprinkler systems in multi-family dwellings with 20 or fewer units would reduce construction costs, firefighters say there would be a price to be paid.

“This issue is a step in the wrong direction. We’re going to add fires, we’re going to add deaths if we don’t take care of this issue. Fire sprinklers, in my opinion should be mandatory in any multi-tenant residence,” Garrison said.