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*** UPDATED x1 *** State fire marshall backs down

Friday, Aug 2, 2013

* From the Twitters…

* This has been a huge issue in Chicago

Chicago residents vehemently voiced objections to the state fire marshal’s proposal to require all residential high-rise buildings to install fire sprinkler systems within the next 12 years at a town hall meeting Wednesday night.

The costs associated with implementing the water sprinklers are just too much to bear, far North Side residents said at the fire code meeting, hosted by State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) at Loyola University’s Cueno Hall.

State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis is pushing for the rule change, which would require high-rises in Illinois built before 1975 to install sprinklers. Currently, high-rises in Chicago built prior to 1975 are exempt from the requirement to install sprinklers. The buildings without sprinklers have, instead, undergone a rigorous life safety evaluation, according to Asif Rahman, deputy commissioner of the city’s buildings department. The fire marshal’s proposed rule would also mandate sprinklers in all new homes.

* The last straw was probably when Senate President John Cullerton voiced his opposition this week

In his role as senate president, Cullerton appointed three of the JCAR members.

“If you insist on filing this rule with JCAR, I will have no choice but to intercede and request that the three members of the Senate Democratic caucus who serve on JCAR reject this rule and will ask my fellow legislative leaders to do the same,” Cullerton’s letter continued.

* But the fire marshal is also in hot water with some downstaters

he Illinois State Fire Marshal wants to mandate fire sprinkler systems be installed in all new residential home construction and existing places of assembly, and time is running out to stop his efforts. State Rep. David Reis (R-Ste. Marie) is sounding an alarm about the proposal and Monday, he called on fellow Illinoisans to speak out before it’s too late to stop the effort.

“Right now families are working hard to save enough money to purchase or build a home, and with this mandate, they will be required to pay thousands of dollars more,” Reis said in a statement. “Additionally, many homes downstate rely on wells for fresh water which cannot accommodate these increased demands, which will lead to additional well drilling costs.”

The Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) proposed the new regulation on June 28, 2013, requiring the installation of fire sprinkler systems in new one-and-two family homes. Previous OSFM sprinkler mandate covered multi-family housing buildings, and single-family housing was carved out from the mandate. Existing churches and other places of public worship are also affected by this rulemaking.

*** UPDATE *** Statement from the Fire Marshal…

“After months of study into how we can better protect the lives and property of Illinois residents, I directed my office to draft Illinois’ first fire code update in 11 years.

“As the brave first responders alongside whom I have served during four decades in fire protection know, Illinois needs 21st century fire safety standards.

“Since we began this process, we conducted numerous meetings with local officials, legislators, fire safety professionals, community leaders and residents who have all expressed a desire to strengthen Illinois’ fire safety.

“We have received an unprecedented amount of public input and suggestions through emails, letters and public meetings.

“In the course of this process, it’s become clear that any proposed state rule needs additional refinement.

“Therefore today I am officially withdrawing the proposed rule before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to take into account substantial public comment and carefully re-examine this issue.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Downstate Illinois - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 11:55 am:

    Typical bureaucrat clueless about real costs. Yes, homes with sprinkers are safer, but if people can’t afford new homes then they will be living in older homes without sprinkers and older wiring that’s more dangerous.

    Home construction costs are rising far faster than demand.

  2. - wordslinger - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 11:57 am:

    I don’t have a problem with a state fire marshal pushing fire safety. That’s his job.

    The GA and gov. have the ability to pass laws that can trump any administrative action. That’s their jobs.

  3. - langhorne - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 12:02 pm:

    ridiculous overreach to attempt to do either of these things by rule. they both inflict enormous costs, affecting large parts of society, without appropriate review. a bill to do either of these would likely fail to get out of committee. so he takes a run at jcar, since he is “merely” amending a rule. where is the oversight from quinn, or are departments free range operations?

  4. - Empty Chair - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 12:06 pm:


    Big win for the Home Builders & legislators who got on the issue early.
    Big loss for the Plumbers and the Pipefitters & the Governor.

  5. - Keyser Soze - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 12:42 pm:

    How can a public servant be so out of touch with the public?

  6. - anon - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 12:51 pm:

    @Keyser Soze. Do you really think the State Fire Marshall should be a politican first and a saver of lives last? A “servant” rather than a “protector?”

  7. - anon sequitor - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 12:55 pm:

    I hope there is some serious blow back in the legislature to curtail his powers to fire investigations and enforcement only in jurisdictions without an existing fire code. There is absolutely no reason he should have the power to trump local laws and local authority.

    This guy is/was on a power trip. I doubt this strategic withdrawal is the end of it. He’ll try again. Time to cut him off before he does.

  8. - Allen Skillicorn - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:07 pm:

    “I directed my office to draft Illinois’ first fire code update in 11 years.”

    If it takes 11 years, do we really a state fire marshall?

  9. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:13 pm:

    Well said, Langhorne. This was way over the top.

    And let’s look at the consequences. Anyone ever had a small fire in their house or garage? Can you imagine how much worse the mess would have been had sprinklers cut loose? One of the insurance guys (yeah consider the source) against this said that the property damage on the average goes up with sprinklers, not down.

    I prefer a robust fire alarm system, extinguishers throughout the house, and a top-notch fire department.

  10. - Ghost - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:16 pm:

    I will go out on the limb as a lone wolf and say putting in firesprinklers in new homes seems like a great idea.

    There are plenty of exsiting homes without them for those folks scraping together their last penny to buy a home, where the 1,500 dollar cost makes the difference between buy or sell.

    the median new home price is 221,000

    cost of a sprinkler system is a rounding error in price negotiations for the median house price.

    This reminds me of the anti-airbag and seatbelts argument… cars will cost more and we don’t want to pay for safety.

  11. - Anon - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:16 pm:


    I am guessing that the NFPA does a substantial rewrite every decade or so.

  12. - Dirty Red - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:21 pm:

    Rich, who was the money behind this proposal?

    = do we really a state fire marshall? =

    Where else are the campaign staffers going to work until Labor Day?

  13. - 47th Ward - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:29 pm:

    According to an organization called “The Illinois Fire Sprinkler Coalition,” there have been 63 reported deaths due to a fire in a residential dwelling.

    With the possible exception of the family and friends of those 63 people, and the good people at Sprinkler Fitters Local 281, I don’t think anyone can conclude that the enormous cost of retrofitting old buildings justifies the benefits of this plan.

  14. - 47th Ward - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:30 pm:

    ===there have been 63 reported deaths due to a fire in a residential dwelling.===

    Sorry, that is as of July, 2013. Last year’s total was 95 fatalities.

  15. - Keyser Soze - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:38 pm:

    It would be helpful for a public servant, any public servant, to display a modicum of common sense. And no, the end doesn’t justify the means when you are diddling with the public’s money. Not that there aren’t those who believe that public safety should always trump expense, no matter the cost.

  16. - wolf - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:47 pm:

    most fire deaths are in 1-3 story buidings - requiring older high rises that floow code to install all new water systems would for owners and renters alike to leave and destroy property values. It’s one thing to add to new homes - quite another to force owners to retrofit high rises at many millions. I’m sure there was the ususal lobbying by the people who’d make a fortune if it was passed - and ginning up the unions who would benefit to go along. ILLINOIS needs no more politics as usual on it’s rep!

  17. - Secret Square - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 1:47 pm:

    “I am officially withdrawing the proposed rule before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to take into account substantial public comment”

    The agency hadn’t yet completed its initial 45-day public comment period so the rule actually never even got to JCAR. Some of the news stories on this matter gave the impression that JCAR was going to take it up at its next meeting on Aug. 13; that was never the case.

  18. - anon - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 2:01 pm:

    When your friends and relatives die in a fire, you will be belly-aching about inadequate protections.

  19. - dupage dan - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 2:10 pm:

    anon @ 2:01pm - thanks for the bumper sticker slogan. I’m having 500 of them printed up right now. Sheesh. No one here is minimizing the effects that a fire has on family and friends. To state otherwise, as you have, is outrageous.

    In your world, folks walk around wearing airbag suits that will inflate if someone so much as touches them, don’t go anywhere near a car and have had all the trees cut down in case a branch falls. Paper will be outlawed due to the horrendous cutting injuries suffered by innocent children. Flotation in seagoing vessels will not allow the boats to carry anything. And, yes, fires will still happen and folks will still get hurt and will still die. Look up the laws of diminishing returns sometimes. And watch out when you turn the pages, it’s dangerous.

  20. - A guy... - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 2:11 pm:

    There’s a very reasonable middle ground here. When you’re threatened with death and mayhem, take a second to look at who’s gonna make out financially from the threat.

  21. - Anonymous - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 2:12 pm:

    anon - Absolute safety can never be guaranteed. You can always spent a ridiculous amount more to be a little more safe. While that may be worth it for some individuals, a government shouldn’t be instituting a safety rule without doing at least a rudimentary cost/benefit analysis. And it sure looks like that wasn’t done here.

    Unless the benefit had something to do with all of the contributions from the fire sprinkler manufacturers groups.

    Dirty Red — take a look at the state campaign contribution website.

  22. - In the Sticks - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 2:23 pm:

    Sprinkler systems are to be tested annually to remain in good operation. That is an annual expense and task that homeowners are not likely to do every year. Firefighter safety is one of the top priorities of the fire marshal.

  23. - Ghost - Friday, Aug 2, 13 @ 2:45 pm:

    == Sprinkler systems are to be tested annually to remain in good operation.===

    And smoke detectors are to be tested monthly, and your car oil is to be changed every 3,000 miles….

  24. - Anon - Monday, Aug 5, 13 @ 6:51 pm:

    The proposal has been characterized as a “sprinkler mandate.” but look what else was being proposed:
    The State Fire Marshall can inspect a property without the owner’s or tenant’s permission - unconstitutional.
    All existing buildings in the state would need to comply with the 2012 Life Safety Code — an impossible feat with little or no benefit — ignoring the other codes used in the State.

  25. - Anon - Monday, Aug 5, 13 @ 11:45 pm:

    Fire Marshal Bill is trying to justify his job.

  26. - Queen Walker - Thursday, Aug 8, 13 @ 10:28 pm:

    Seeing that the current fire marshall is in hot waters with almost everyone in the community shows that he may have not established close contacts for them to participate in his plans. Perhaps his plans and policies are also so unreasonable which led people to react.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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