US Senators reintroduce legislation to enhance fire safety in public housing

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Legislation to retrofit public housing buildings with sprinkler systems

U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar have reintroduced legislation to help install sprinkler systems in older public housing buildings, aiming to increase safety and save lives.

A detailed outline of the proposed legislation can be found here.

Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by US Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman and John Rutherford, with support from Representative Ilhan Omar.

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act is a response to the tragic Cedar High Apartments fire in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2019.

The upper floors of the building where the fire erupted did not have sprinkler systems installed.

Key quotes from the officials on public housing fire safety

Senator Klobuchar stated: “In the wake of the tragic 2019 Cedar High Apartments Fire, I joined Senator Smith in introducing legislation to ensure that buildings have properly installed fire and sprinkler systems.

“Every second counts during a house fire, and with up-to-date systems, more lives can be saved.

“We need to continue these efforts by passing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act to bring us one step closer towards ensuring that buildings are safe for all residents.”

Senator Smith remarked: “The fire at Cedar High Apartments was a tragic loss for the Cedar-Riverside community.

“In the aftermath of the tragedy, I began connecting with people closely affected by the fire and looking into ways to prevent it from happening again.

“This bill gets to the root of what we need to do: incentivise public housing authorities to install sprinkler systems and give them the support they need to do it.”

Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, noted the importance of investment in retrofitting with fire sprinkler systems for public housing safety.

Trinidad Uribe, President of the USA Sprinkler Fitters Association, called the Public Housing Fire Safety Act a “crucial and necessary solution to improving the safety of public housing facilities and protecting the lives of tenants across the country.”

Details of the Public Housing Fire Safety Act and historical context

The Federal Fire Safety Act of 1992 mandated the installation of sprinklers in all newly constructed government-owned high-rise buildings.

However, thousands of public housing apartment buildings around the country were built before that date, leaving them without mandatory sprinkler systems.

Nearly all of the high-rise public housing buildings in Minneapolis were constructed prior to these regulations.

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act would create an annual $25 million competitive grant programme to provide funds to public housing authorities wishing to retrofit older high-rise apartment buildings with sprinkler systems.

Senators Smith and Klobuchar have previously secured $2 million in funding for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to install fire sprinklers in outdated public housing, reflecting a long-standing commitment to safety in public housing.

IFSJ Comment

The reintroduction of legislation aimed at improving fire safety measures in public housing reflects a timely response to the ongoing challenge of keeping residents safe.

By focusing on retrofitting older buildings with sprinkler systems, the Public Housing Fire Safety Act has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of tragic incidents like the Cedar High Apartments fire in 2019.

We will continue to monitor the development of this legislation and its potential impact on public housing across the country.

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