Oakland Warehouse Fire: Sprinkler Group Pledges Renewed Legislative Push

As first responders continue their work at the site of a deadly blaze at a converted California warehouse, the National Fire Sprinkler Association is calling on Congress to act to prevent future disasters. Since 2004, the group has pressed for legislation to encourage installation of sprinklers and other fire safety features.

In the wake of a tragic fire at an Oakland, California, warehouse-turned-art-facility over the weekend, a trade group focused on fire safety issues is drawing attention to its ongoing fight to make sprinkler systems more common.

The Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, first introduced in Congress after a deadly 2003 blaze at The Station, a Rhode Island night club, would allow building owners to deduct costs of installing sprinklers—up to $125,000 in a single year. Although the bill has been introduced in every congressional session since 2004, with the support of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA), it has failed to get past committee.

Friday night’s fire at the Ghost Ship art collective warehouse, which killed at least 36 people, shares many similarities with the Rhode Island fire, which killed 100 and injured 230. Both occurred in large, enclosed venues while an event was taking place. Neither building had a working sprinkler system, and neither had a sufficient number of exits—in the case of the Ghost Ship, there were just two exits for the entire building.

(Ghost Ship’s primary operator, Derick Ion Almena, was said not to have taken fire-safety concerns seriously, failing to acquire permits as necessary, including one for Friday night’s event, according to a local ABC News affiliate.)

In a news release, NFSA President Shane Ray noted that the legislation would have likely encouraged the owners of the warehouse to install fire sprinklers, potentially preventing a tragedy that is likely to be the deadliest of its kind in Oakland’s history.

“It saddens us to see more tragedies in these high-risk occupancies that need fire sprinklers,” Ray said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected in this tragedy in Oakland. We pledge our continued support for the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, which provides business owners an incentive to retrofit with fire sprinklers—the one technology that could extinguish the fire.”

“These tragedies do not have to happen,” said Rob Feeney, who survived the 2003 nightclub fire. “Enough is enough, it’s time to pass the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act. How many people have to die before we wake up and do something that will keep people safe?”

Firefighters work inside the burned warehouse following the fatal fire in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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