Ervin Dzinic of Total Fire Protection in Brandon installs hangers for fire sprinkler heads Friday at the new Pettigrew Heights Apartments on 11th Street, April 6, 2012. The city has created a task force to determine if all apartments should have fire sprinklers. / Elisha Page / Argus Leader
The City Council has formed a task force to study whether all apartment buildings in Sioux Falls should have fire sprinklers, as recommended by the International Building Code.
A local amendment to the building code requires automatic fire-extinguishing systems only in multi-housing buildings with two or more levels or 16 or more units. The code doesn’t cover townhomes or single-family houses.
City staff have recommended passing an ordinance to change this. Proponents say such a change would ensure equal safety for all renters; opponents say the measure would be too costly and deserves more study.
The last fire death in Sioux Falls, in December, happened in an apartment without sprinklers, Fire Chief Jim Sideras said at a recent meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee. He urged the committee to pass the sprinkler ordinance.
“You are right now setting the standard for the next 10-15 years,” he said.
Ron Bell, the city’s chief building services official, said 3,866 apartment units have been built in Sioux Falls since 2004, when the city adopted the building code minus a new change to require sprinklers
Bell’s office reviewed the past three years of permit data and found that only about half of those units had sprinklers, either because they were townhomes or were located in buildings too small to fall under the ordinance, he said.
“You’re just simply increasing the odds that there’s going to be a fire where if there was a sprinkler system in there, [it] could save a life,” he said.
The few fire deaths at buildings with sprinklers in the past 40 years were caused by explosions, not fire or smoke inhalation, city fire marshal Dean Lanier said.
But Dan Siefken, executive director of the South Dakota Multi-Housing Association, worried that the cost of installing sprinkler systems — and paying for inspections — could add $35 to $100 to a typical
apartment rent. This would devastate poorer renters, he said.
“What impact is it going for the public who has chosen — who has no other choice — but to rent?” he said.
If the tenant installs a sprinkler system, Councilor Michelle Erpenbach asked him, what happens to their insurance bill?
It depends, Siefken said. Some have seen their premiums drop; others saw their premiums rise because of
water damage claimswhen sprinklers break.
Councilor Dean Karsky said renters should be allowed to choose whether to live in an apartment with sprinklers.
“You don’t want to put what I’m going to pay for rent ahead of my family’s safety,” he said, “but sometimes it is a choice you have to make — having a place to live versus having one with a sprinkler system.”
The task force will report its finding to the committee in May.