Wisconsin Gov. Administration Backs Off Apartment Sprinkler Move

February 13, 2017

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration reversed itself Wednesday and no longer plans to roll back a requirement for fire sprinklers in many new apartment buildings.

The state Department of Safety and Professional Services recently advanced plans to end a requirement that builders install fire sprinklers in new housing projects with three to 20 units. But agency officials now say they are dropping the idea, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Firefighters and fire officials had said the proposal could cost lives.

Eric Esser, the department’s deputy secretary, said that although the sprinkler requirement won’t happen, no final decisions have been made on a proposal to expand the use of circuit interrupters that prevent fire and electrocution, as an advisory committee recommended last year.

In September, the panel of experts assembled by the department voted 9-1 to expand the use of circuit interrupters in new homes. Circuit interrupters, which include reset buttons on outlets and in circuit boxes, sense current and arcing and prevent electrical fires and electrocution. But department officials at least initially decided to pass on those recommendations, the Journal Sentinel reported.

The committee was told in December that its recommendations, which were based on industry safety standards, were being rejected, said Bill Neitzel, an electrical inspector and chairman of the advisory panel.

Fire chiefs and advocates for burn victims say circuit interrupters would add only a few hundred dollars to the cost of a new home.

Requiring more circuit interrupters could add $500 to $600 to the cost of a new home, said Brad Boycks, executive director of the Wisconsin Builders Association, a homebuilders group.

“Those are real dollars,” Boycks said. “We always want to keep the cost of housing low so people have housing options. … When you raise the price of housing, you price families out.”

But executive director Amy Acton of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors said Wisconsin should not put lives at stake to save a few hundred dollars for homebuyers.

“To me, that’s just a total no-brainer,” Acton said. “I don’t think anybody who’s building a home is going to notice $400 circuit interrupters.”

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