Charleston Fire Chief Thomas Carr on Tuesday voiced concern that, on top of losing more lives, home insurance rates across the state could increase if the Legislature rejects the new sprinkler standards in the International Residential Code.
He supports a mandate requiring sprinkler systems in all new homes beginning in January 2011.
"We're doing everything we can so that people know the right information for the right reasons," he said. "We're losing too many lives in South Carolina."
Proponents of sprinklers are facing stiff opposition from builders groups who have said sprinklers shouldn't be mandated, but instead should be a personal choice because of the additional cost it can have on new construction.
The Home Builders Association said sprinklers could cost between $4 and $6 a foot. Proponents said the cost is more like $2.
Pending legislation would remove the mandate from the International Residential Code. The House voted 89-19 on Tuesday to give the bill key approval without any debate. After a final and perfunctory vote, the bill would go to the Senate for consideration. The Senate is debating the state's proposed $5 billion budget and is not expected to take up any other legislation until next week.
The Insurance Services Offices Inc. said that communities that do not adopt the code with the sprinkler amendments will lose 5 points off of their ISO rating, likely causing premiums to go up.
Carr compared that with the drop in insurance rates homeowners would see if their homes are fitted with sprinklers.
Carr said he fought a similar battle over sprinklers in Maryland before taking over the Charleston Fire Department.
He faces an even stiffer battle in South Carolina, where sprinkler systems have seen years of legislative defeat. Proposals for tougher building codes and new requirements for sprinklers have failed repeatedly, despite events such as the 2004 Comfort Inn fire in Greenville that killed six people.
The latest push for new sprinkler system requirements, in 2008, followed the Sofa Super Store Fire in 2007 and a beach house fire in Ocean Isle, N.C., where seven South Carolina college students died.