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Wisconsin to require new, multi-family apartment buildings have fire sprinkler systems

The regulation will apply to residential buildings with between three and 19 units starting...
The regulation will apply to residential buildings with between three and 19 units starting April 19. Current Wisconsin law already requires multi-family dwellings with more than 20 units to have a fire sprinkler system.(Max Cotton)
Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 6:57 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) will once again start requiring all new multi-family dwellings have fire sprinkler systems.

The regulation will apply to residential buildings with between three and 19 units starting April 19. Current Wisconsin law already requires multi-family dwellings with more than 20 units to have a fire sprinkler system.

The regulation comes after years of legal questions as to whether it was enforceable since the sprinkler system requirement for multi-family dwellings with fewer than 20 units came from DSPS and not state statute.

“From the inception of the code requirement in 2011, they enforced it up until 2017,” said The Alliance for Regulatory Coordination founder Bob DuPont.

In 2017, then Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel issued an opinion saying the regulation violated state law so DSPS stopped enforcing it.

Current Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul recently revisited Schimel’s opinion. Kaul determined the regulation is legal.

Eau Claire Deputy Fire Chief Allyn Bertrang said reinstating the regulation will save lives.

“They are what controls the fire or extinguishes it prior to our arrival, making the situation much much safer for any occupants of the building and for firefighters when arrive to fully extinguish the fire,” he said.

Bertrang also said fire sprinkler systems are more important nowadays since building materials and furniture are more flammable than their older counterparts.

“There’s more combustible materials being used,” he said. “There’s things such as glues and things like that in the buildings. So buildings burn much hotter and much quicker than they did 50 years ago.”

Bertrang said sprinkler systems often work in partnership with firefighters helping suppress fires before crews arrive on the scene.

Despite not being required, DSPS said more than 85 percent of the 530 building plans submitted in 2020 that’d be subject to the regulation had sprinkler systems.

DuPont said the regulation is common in many states since it’s part of the International Building Code.

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