Box Alarm 1000 Jefferson Drive SW. Fire 3rd floor Smithsonian Castle Building. Fire contained by sprinklers. Bldg evacuated. No injuries. pic.twitter.com/ohJegAa3r0
— DC Fire and EMS (@dcfireems) August 16, 2017
Two sprinkler stories caught my attention today (Wednesday). The first is from DC Fire and EMS and the tweet above. A sprinkler head contained a fire at the historic Smithsonian Castle Building on the National Mall. That building was completed in 1855. It’s 100-years older than I am. Obviously, the people who care for so many great historic treasures of our country care enough to protect these priceless artifacts and their many visitors from fire.
The second story is from Wisconsin. Somehow the administration of Governor Scott Walker can’t or won’t administer a 7-year-old requirement for sprinklers in new apartment buildings with three to 20 units. Obviously, Governor Walker and his people don’t care enough about the citizens of Wisconsin to protect them from fire.
Of course, it’s the same old story in Wisconsin as it is in Virginia, where I live, and in much of the rest of the country. The expertise of people like Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing (see below) and Loudoun County (VA) Fire Chief Keith Brower do not matter to the politicians. What matters are the builders.
The fire service will never have what the builders have — money. Money almost always trumps expertise and even the tragic lessons firefighters see up close. For example, in Virginia, many of the basics of enforcing fire codes are about to be taken out of the hands of fire marshals. It’s the recommendation of the board appointed by the governor. That board has just one service representative and is dominated by developers, architects and home builders. Governor Terry McAuliffe, please don’t let this happen.
Governor Scott Walker, I know there is important political ideology involved here about smaller and less intrusive government. But is that the argument you’re going to want to make when Chief Rohlfing’s firefighters are pulling bodies out of an almost new apartment building that should have been sprinklered?
School-aged kids from all over the country come to Washington to visit the Smithsonian. They learn valuable lessons about our country. But the lesson today from the Smithsonian is for the adults like Governors Walker and McAuliffe who help lead this great nation: Sprinklers save both valuable property and the lives of the children from Wisconsin, Virginia and the 48 other states who come to Washington to eagerly peer through the glass at the history on display along the National Mall. The builders won’t ever teach you that lesson but the fire chiefs always will.
The development comes six months after an administration official pledged to keep the rule in place.
Last month, a lawyer for the agency responsible for the rule wrote in a letter to the state Department of Justice that it was unenforceable because of a 2011 law that limits state regulations. And the head of a builders group told his members that the state had already stopped following the rule.
Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing said if the rule can’t be enforced, legislators should quickly address the issue and make sure new buildings with three to 20 apartments are equipped with fire sprinklers.
“To think we’re going to roll that back is disheartening,” he said.
“As firefighters, we know that sprinklers save lives. When you look at a building and you think what can I do for protecting that building and the people in it, the single most important component of that is a sprinkler system.”