Sens. Carper, Collins Introduce Bill to Help Improve Fire Safety and Preparedness in Buildings

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced legislation to encourage commercial building owners to invest in life-saving fire safety upgrades. The Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act of 2013 strengthens tax incentives for owners of structures, such as commercial office space, nursing homes and other buildings to install fire sprinkler retrofits that can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in property from fires each year.

Currently, commercial building owners must depreciate fire sprinkler retrofits over a lengthy 39-year period. The Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act reclassifies fire sprinkler retrofits as 15-year depreciable property, thus allowing businesses to receive the tax benefits more quickly. The bill also provides an option to certain small businesses to qualify for an immediate tax benefit on fire system upgrades. Together, these proposals will provide a strong incentive for building owners to install critically-needed fire sprinkler systems. While building codes require sprinklers in new commercial buildings, tens of thousands of structures across the nation were built and put in service before sprinklers were required, including structures like commercial office space and college dormitories.

“I often say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that is certainly the case with unexpected and often tragic fires,” said Senator Carper. “Each year, we lose thousands of lives and billions of dollars of property due to building fires. One way to reduce those numbers is to ensure that building owners are able to employ modern, effective fire sprinkler systems. Unfortunately, many building owners, particularly small businesses, are unable to afford the high costs associated with upgrades and installation of fire sprinklers. This bipartisan bill would provide much-needed tax relief for businesses that install these retrofits, helping save lives and mitigate costs from fire damage. I look forward to working with Senator Collins and our colleagues to pass this important bill to improve safety in communities across the country.”

“Each year, fires kill roughly 100 firefighters and 3000 occupants of buildings and results in more than $15 billion in property damage,” said Senator Collins. “That doesn’t have to happen. This legislation would help small businesses and building owners upgrade to state-of-the-art sprinkler systems. New sprinkler systems are required in new buildings, but we need to do more to ensure the best systems are retrofitted in older buildings. Encouraging the installation of the best sprinkler technology will save lives, property, and money.”

Providing stronger incentives will be particularly helpful to small businesses, since over 70 percent of the nation’s sprinkler contractors are considered small businesses. In addition to accelerated depreciation incentives, the bill also provides small businesses with an up-front tax write-off for fire sprinkler upgrades, instead of forcing them to wait years or decades under existing law to claim the tax benefit.

Every year in the United States, there are over 3,000 civilian deaths, roughly 100 fire fighter deaths, and over 16,000 injuries due to fire. The direct property damage caused by fire is over $15 billion and indirect costs associated with fire, such as lost economic activity, is over $100 billion. One of the more effective ways to minimize the loss of life and property is through automatic sprinklers.