Despite an emotional plea from Knoxville’s fire marshal, a state Senate committee has approved legislation that will repeal all local government ordinances that now require sprinkler systems in townhomes built to house three or more residences.
“We know that fire sprinklers save lives. Yet here we are talking about relaxing the code on a proven method of saving lives,” Knoxville Fire Department Assistant Chief Danny Beeler told the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday.
Beeler recounted his personal experience — “I’ve seen too many bodies,” he said at one point, voice cracking — as a firefighter and as an investigator of more than 60 fire deaths over a 27-year career.
The most recent, he said, was a young man who died on Valentine’s Day this year, just short of his 18th birthday, who would probably have been saved if his apartment “not so much unlike townhomes we’re talking about today” had sprinklers.
“Please don’t take an action that will put (people)… in greater danger,” he said.
The sponsor of SB474, Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, said allowing cities and counties to impose a requirement for sprinklers increases the cost of building multi-resident homes and puts Tennessee home builders at a “competitive disadvantage” with contractors in border states that do not, including Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia.
Bell said he has been a volunteer fireman for 20 years and appreciates the passion and professional commitment Beeler expressed, but that the bill — especially after an amendment that was adopted — represents a “reasonable step.”
“You can be a firefighter, albeit a volunteer firefighter, and have a different view on this,” Bell said.