To the Officers, Directors and members of the Alarm Association of Florida

As we approach the end of April we also approach the end of the 2019 Florida legislative session.  With new leadership in Tallahassee it has been a busy session to say the least.

Of the many issues debated this session one of the most debated is sadly an issue that has consumed the resources of our state government for nearly two decades; the issue of retrofitting fire sprinklers to existing high rise buildings.

November 1980 a fire broke out in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.  The fire killed 85 people and injured another 627.  The building was only partially covered by fire sprinklers and the fire started in an area that was supposed to be occupied but at the time was not.  The fire quickly spread to areas of the building not protected by fire sprinklers.  This particular fire garnered national attention and most of the country adopted requirements for automatic fire sprinkler systems in new high rise buildings.  Soon after, in the late 1990’s the building and fire codes bean to address the existing high rise buildings as well.  Automatic fire sprinkler systems have been around since the late 1800’s and have a safety record that is nothing less than stellar; less than 10 people have died from fire in buildings protected by an automatic fire sprinkler system since they have been in use.

Since the early 2000’s the law regarding the retrofitting of existing high rise buildings with fire sprinklers has been on the legislative agenda every year.  The condominium owners do not want to pay for the cost.  And who can blame them?  There are spirited debates regarding what the actual cost is; but as we all know it can vary greatly from building to building.  No one wants to spend money on something that we all hope never gets used.

But I do have two questions to pose:

  1. How much is a human life worth?
  2. Should there ever be, and I know we all hope and pray there never will, a devastating high rise fire, beyond the reach of the fire department equipment, that takes lives; how long do you think it will be before an outrage is presented in the media demanding why this was not avoided?  All because of a monetary figure?

Another factor to consider; all of us in the industry work closely with first responders, be it fire, medical or law enforcement.  Our industry, more than most, understand what these brave men and women risk each day they go to work.  Research is now beginning to show that each high rise fire where the fire department has to actively fight the fire results in at least one firefighter death.  If not directly from the fire then from exposure to the smoke and fumes from modern building materials which is now being shown to produce high amounts of carcinogens.  More firefighters are dying from cancer than ever before.

The resources spent to extend or eliminate the high rise retrofit law would have paid the price to retrofit every high rise in Florida twice over.

Three times before legislation allowing condominium owners to ‘opt out’ of complying with the law regarding the retrofitting of fire sprinklers has passed the Florida congress and subsequently been vetoed by three different governors; Governors Bush, Crist and Scott.

The Alarm Association of Florida stands with many other associations in asking that you reach out to your representatives and senators in the Florida Congress and ask that they vote against legislation that allows high rise buildings to avoid the code requirements that have been law for nearly twenty years and make our buildings safe from uncontrolled fire.  If you need information as to how to find and contact your representatives and senators please contact me at sguthrie@fla-alarms.org.

I am reminded of the title sequence to the 1970’s show “The Six Million Dollar Man” where the narrator said, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him; we have the technology”

We have the technology to nearly eliminate the risk of death from fire; it’s high time we stopped fighting and simply apply it.

Sean Guthrie

Executive Director

Alarm Association of Florida, Inc.