N.C. Panel Weakens Sprinkler Rule Against Advice of Fire Marshal

March 16, 2007

A state panel in North Carolina, acting against the pleas of the state fire marshal, has softened a rule on which buildings require sprinklers.

The N.C. Building Code Council voted 8-4 earlier this week to relax the new standard, which required sprinklers in new buildings where at least 100 people gather to eat or drink. Instead, the council voted to raise the standard to 300 people for buildings other than nightclubs, which it didn’t define.

“Without code protection, it will be about business — the funeral business,” said state Insurance Commissioner Jim Long, who’s also the fire marshal.

North Carolina was one of the states that adopted a stricter rule on sprinklers after 100 people died in 2003 in a fire at a Rhode Island nightclub. Starting Jan. 1, the threshold went to 100 people, down from the previous 300.

But the council voted to raise the number back to 300 at the request of a state group for architects. The state chapter of the American Institute of Architects said the lower threshold would add unreasonable costs for independent business owners and school districts in rural areas that can’t get city water.

They would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to install water tanks and pumps, the AIA said.

Building codes do recommend the placement of doors and windows and the use of slower-burning materials as other ways to make buildings more fire-safe.

The 17-member building council has the authority to amend state building codes or adopt new ones. But Long said he would fight the decision. He has several options, including approaching legislators.

“It’s not over yet,” he said.

The state Fire Marshals Association wanted to keep the stricter standard because it protects both those in the buildings and firefighters.


Information from: The News & Observer,

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