Task force weighs sprinkler systems for apartments - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Task force weighs sprinkler systems for apartments

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As fire investigators work to determine the cause of Tuesday morning's fatal fire, one thing is known: the complex didn't have a sprinkler system.

That's in compliance with city code because Sioux Falls doesn't require them for small apartment buildings. But, after losing six people to fires in five months, a Sioux Falls task force is looking at making some changes.

For just over a decade, the City of Sioux Falls has been looking at whether or not fire sprinklers should be required in small apartment buildings.

Current code states that any complex with more t han 16 units OR, at least, three levels must have a system in place.

For Sioux Falls Fire Sprinkler Task Force, it's a challenge of providing the most safe living WITH sprinkler systems while keeping costs affordable for multi-family housing.

"The fact is that sprinklers save lives. There's no question on a national level that sprinkler'd buildings do not have fire losses and that's what our issue is. Because the rest of the country is doing it, we need to keep up with that type of life safety that a sprinkler will provide," Chief Building Official Ron Bell said.

National codes require all new apartments have sprinkler systems. But in Sioux Falls, the city and property owners didn't want to see higher costs for construction and rent which is why the city adopted its own code in the early 2000s.

When it comes to preventing fires, SFFR says the safer a unit can be, the better.

A sprinkler system will automatically activate in a room with temperatures exceeding 150 degrees. It will slowly contain the blaze while keeping it from spreading. A room without would burn though everything in the room, often times making the smoke more toxic.

"They spread a little water over a large area and do a good job just controlling the fire. that safety factor does improve largely your ability to survive the event," SFFR Fire Marshal Dean Lanier said.

Many on the task force agree: having sprinklers is a priority. Even with the recent fires, the concern lies for tomorrow.

"What we're continuing to do is building non-sprinklered buildings. It's time to provide what they provide in multi-family structures. You can't control what your neighbors do in a multi-family structure," Bell said.

The task force will work to effectively find ways to bring more sprinkler systems into new multi-family housing while keeping costs down. They're also researching ways other cities - like Rapid City, Minneapolis and Omaha - have made it successful and affordable.

The task force is expected to bring forward a recommendation to the SF City Council and other leaders in May.

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