On March 9th, Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tom Carper (D-Delaware) filed the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act (FSIA), while Representatives Tom Reed (R- New York) and Jim Langevin (D-Rhode Island) introduced the companion House legislation, to encourage building owners to invest in life-saving fire safety upgrades.
The FSIA strengthens tax incentives for building owners to retrofit their properties with fire sprinkler systems. This action will protect their occupants and property from the devastation of fire. The legislation is a great example of government support to private businesses and individuals to improve life safety and fire protection. Currently, commercial building owners must depreciate fire sprinkler retrofits over a period of 39 years and residential building owners over 27-½ years. The FSIA reclassifies fire sprinkler retrofits in high-rise properties to 15 years, allowing businesses to receive tax benefits more quickly.
The proposed legislation was originally introduced in 2004 following the tragic Station Nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, that claimed 100 lives. Since then, the legislation has been reintroduced in subsequent Congresses with various changes made to address concerns raised by members of Congress regarding cost estimates. The current legislation has addressed those concerns.
“We applaud Senators Collins and Carper along with Representatives Langevin and Reed for their perseverance – life safety for citizens and firefighters is worth it,” explains Chief Shane Ray, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA). “This legislation will help fire chiefs, as well as state and local government officials make improvements in fire protection with a public-private partnership that will save lives. NFSA has been involved in this every step of the way and Jim Dalton has been our liaison for this proactive legislation.”
Under the current legislation, automatic sprinklers could be treated as Section 179 property under the tax code. Section 179 allows small and medium-sized businesses to write off the full cost of equipment purchases, up to $500,000, in a single year. While automatic fire sprinklers are not currently classified as a Section 179 property, passage of the legislation would allow property owners to retrofit a large majority of high-fire-risk properties, such as certain off-campus housing, nightclubs, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The legislation would also create a financial incentive for high-rise building owners to install sprinkler systems by reducing the depreciation schedule to 15 years. We are optimistic that the 115th Congress is going to initiate tax reform, which is likely to get us back to where we started with this initiative with depreciation of five years or less.
“We hope this will be the legislative session that sees passage of this important legislation,” adds Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). “Firefighter and citizen lives will be saved as a result of this proactive incentive-based strategy that supports the NFFF Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives, specifically Initiative 15.”
“As a survivor of the Station Nightclub Fire, I understand the fire problem in these building types better than most,” explains Rob Feeney, a fire safety advocate for Common Voices and the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. “I lost friends and loved ones in that fire and it amazes me that it takes so long to pass a law that can prevent this from happening again. My hope is that this Congress will pass the bill and save lives in the future.”