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Fatal Warehouse Fire Prompts Partnership to Update Building Safety
Following the fire at the Sofa Super Store warehouse in Charleston, SC, United Association (UA) Fire Sprinkler Fitters Union has pledged to work closely with fire service and building department groups to upgrade codes and make buildings safer for occupants and firefighters.
According to reports, the fast-spreading fire burned uncontrolled until firefighters arrived. The severely undermined structure collapsed, killing nine firefighters. The building was not protected with a fire sprinkler system.
Officials in South Carolina have stated the building was not sprinklered because it was built before codes were in place to require fire sprinkler systems.
"We need to remove the deadliest fire code of them all, the
'grandfather clause'," says John Zubricks, business manager of UA Local 281 in Chicago. "We support the fire service and building officials who want to upgrade their codes. They need our help to educate elected officials and legislators so they understand why there is a need to do away with dangerous 'grandfather clauses' that permit the lack of fire safety measures or allow for substandard measures to exist."
For decades, national fire safety experts have recognized that fire sprinkler systems provide an incomparable level of fire protection to occupants and first responders, and that their use should be increased. One of the earliest and most prominent examples of this is America Burning, the watershed report published in 1973 by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, which called for specific and sweeping improvements in fire safety. Among these were increased fire protection features in buildings, including automatic fire sprinklers.
In 2000, a federal commission was appointed to review the panel's recommendations. The Commission's report said, "Sprinklers are acknowledged as the most effective tool in immediately suppressing fires, minimizing damage and saving lives."
“It's extremely frustrating when we hear of a fire death in a building that's not protected,” says Brad Karbowsky, business manager, UA Local 669, Columbia, MD. “It's even more frustrating when there are multiple deaths. Data shows that there have never been multiple deaths in buildings protected with fire sprinklers."
More recently, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation convened a national Life Safety Summit to reduce firefighter deaths, vowing to reduce the firefighter fatality rate by 25 percent within five years and by 50 percent within 10 years. The group's 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives include one focused on fire sprinklers: "Advocacy must be strengthened for the enforcement of codes and the installation of home fire sprinklers."