More than 300 codes and standards influence fire and life safety in the built environment in the United States. We can create safer communities by assisting local jurisdictions in implementing and enforcing these codes and standards, which will keep Americans safe from the “menace of fire,” just as President Harry S. Truman said in 1947.
State and local governments are responsible for promoting the use and enforcement of current codes and standards. The federal government can help by incentivizing compliance and providing funding to local jurisdictions for code implementation, inspection and enforcement.
Proper use of life-saving technology like smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and automatic fire sprinkler systems — all of these have been proven to save lives. All modern buildings require these systems, and the fire codes must be consistently and aggressively enforced.
In addition, we strongly urge that all federally-funded construction projects be required to comply with the most current fire and building codes and that federal housing assistance needs to be tied to the use and compliance of the most current fire, life safety, electrical and building codes.
Fire disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable populations: older adults, children, people of color, low-income populations and people with disabilities. This is an equity issue.
Safe housing and affordable housing should not be mutually exclusive concepts. Nearly a million households live in public housing units in the United States, and fire safety improvements in public housing must receive heightened attention.
In 1992, Congress passed the Federal Fire Safety Act, requiring newly constructed multifamily housing units to have fire sprinklers. HUD estimates that approximately 570,000 multifamily public housing units are still in the inventory, constructed before the sprinkler requirement, of which a significant portion still lacks fire sprinklers.
We must make investments in retrofitting public housing with fire sprinkler systems. An NFPA study found that in buildings with sprinkler systems, the civilian fire death and injury rates were 89% and 27% lower.
Additionally, HUD must ensure all public housing units are equipped with working smoke alarms that are installed and maintained under the relevant codes and standards. Nearly 3 out of 5 home fire deaths are caused by fires in properties without smoke alarms or smoke alarms that failed to operate. HUD must provide resources to public housing authorities to either retrofit housing units with hardwired smoke alarms or require the installation of tamper-resistant, long-life, battery-powered smoke alarms.
By embracing the current fire and life safety codes and standards at all levels of government, we can make great strides in addressing the fire problem in our nation. Together we can create safer communities by implementing and enforcing codes and standards, especially in the wildland urban interface and underserved and vulnerable populations by providing affordable and fire-safe housing.