Senate may block counties from mandating home sprinklers

LIHU‘E — A bill before the Hawai‘i Legislature would make it impossible for counties to pass laws mandating new or existing one- and two-family dwellings to be equipped with fire sprinkler systems.

Senate Bill 2397 “prohibits counties from requiring installation or retrofitting of automatic fire sprinklers in new or existing one- or two-family dwelling units used only for residential purposes.”

Kaua‘i Fire Department Chief Robert Westerman said there’s no requirement in county or state law mandating sprinklers to be installed in those types of units, but added that the proposed bill is trying to “pre-empt” that from happening.

“Our fire code doesn’t mandate sprinklers,” Westerman said Monday, explaining it is the county building code that would mandate sprinklers.

If fire sprinklers were to be mandated by the county building code, then the fire code would be responsible for explaining how the sprinklers would have to be installed and maintained, Westerman said.

KFD would be supportive of a fire sprinkler mandate if it were made part of the building code, he added.

SB 2397 was introduced Jan. 20. It passed the first reading three days later ,and on Feb. 2 the Senate Public Safety Committee recommended passage of the bill, with amendments. On Feb. 8, the bill passed the second reading and was referred to the Senate Water, Land and Housing Committee.

But before sending the bill for a second reading, the public safety committee amended the bill by making it effective Jan. 1, 2025, “to ensure further discussion,” according to comments sent on behalf of committee members to Senate President Shan Tsutsui, D-4th District.

A House version of the bill, HB 1795, was introduced Jan. 13, but didn’t make it far. The House of Representatives Housing Committee on Feb. 1 recommended deferral of the bill, killing it for this session.

Should fire sprinklers be mandated?

Comments submitted to Tsutsui by Sen. Will Espero, D-20th District, who introduced the bill, states that the “committee finds that the mandatory installation of automatic fire sprinklers is unnecessary at this time because new homes are built with better fire safety measures; fire sprinklers are not cost-effective; targeted fire safety education programs work; fire sprinklers have not been proven to enhance the safety of occupants; and if a homeowner wants to install a fire sprinkler, that option should be left to the homeowner.”

The Kaua‘i Fire Commission had a different opinion a year ago, based on statistics that suggested sprinklers are a substantial fire deterrent.

On Feb. 7. 2011, the commission adopted a position supporting the creation of a law requiring new one- and two-family homes to be fitted with automatic fire sprinklers.

“In an effort to reduce the number of deaths from a national average of 3,000 citizens and 100 firefighters annually and to avert billions of dollars annually in property loss … we must include fire sprinklers as an integral part of a community’s fire protection,” Commissioner Guy Croydon read from the opening paragraph of a statement on the commission’s position.

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