Eighth Time is a Charm

What happens when the third time is not a charm?  I suppose it all depends on the issue and whether you have the fire in the belly to try, try again.  OK, enough of the clichés.  Instead, I want to write about an important issue that faced the fire service back in 2003 and how a number of fire organizations remained committed to the issue until we finally prevailed 15 years later.  I have spent the last 33 years in Washington, D.C. working directly and indirectly with members of Congress.  During that time, I have seldom seen them and a constituency remain committed to an issue for that long.  That is until Congressman Jim Langevin of Rhode Island introduced the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act. 

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We all recall the tragic fire that occurred on February 20, 2003 at the Station Club in West Warwick, Rhode Island.  Over 500 people were crammed into the club to hear the Great White band perform.  The pyrotechnics set-off a fire that within two minutes turned the club into an inferno, claiming the lives of 100 victims and injuring many more.  If only the Station Club had automatic fire sprinklers?  But it didn’t.

Within 48 hours of the fire, representatives of various national fire service organizations convened a meeting to discuss the tragedy and how we can encourage members of Congress to take some action to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.  Codes and standards are implemented and enforced at the local and state levels, so we had to develop an idea that would fall under the federal purview.  After much discussion, we decided on a proposal to establish an economic incentive that would allow businesses to retrofit their properties with automatic fire sprinklers.  This idea was transformed into the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act.

Congressman Jim Langevin didn’t hesitate when we presented him the idea of the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act; he immediately agreed to champion the legislation.  The Station Club was in his congressional district and many of the victims were his constituents.   For 15 years, Congressman Langevin and fire organizations worked together on this issue.  When a new Congress was convened, the Congressman would reintroduce the measure and our organizations would once again search for co-sponsors.  The bill was eventually introduced in eight different legislative sessions. 

Major provisions of the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act were included in the tax bill signed into law by the President in December.  It will allow certain businesses to expense the cost of fire sprinkler systems to retrofit their structures.  The National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) deserves so much of the credit for keeping us in the fight year after year.  Now that Congress created the incentive, we need to get the word out for businesses to take advantage of it; otherwise, our 15-year effort will be for not.

NFSA has important information on their website explaining the incentives.  I would encourage you to read the information and share it with businesses in your communities that would qualify.  You can download these resources by visiting  https://nfsa.org/taxreform/.

On February 20, 2018, a remembrance ceremony was conducted at the Station Club memorial to honor the victims and the survivors.  For me, it was one of the most meaningful experiences in my career at CFSI as my peers and I were able to say to the families and friends of the victims who attended that we had not forgotten their losses, nor did we ever lose the will to keep fighting the battle on Capitol Hill until we prevailed.

Bill Webb has served as Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute since 1995. CFSI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to enhance congressional awareness about the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services. As Executive Director, he works closely with members of Congress and fire service leaders to sustain support on Capitol Hill for programs and legislation that benefit our nation’s fire and emergency services. Before joining CFSI, Webb worked for the Firefighter Combat Challenge as the project manager for the competition. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and is an honorary member of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters’ Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36.
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