Money Talks

The fire service needs to focus more on the economics of fire while communicating with local government on the costs of fire damage.

Let me be as clear as I can be. Right now as you read this article, there is a strong lobbying effort by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) at the various states legislatures asking them to bypass adoption of the 2009 edition of the ICC codes, or at the very least remove the requirement for residential fire sprinklers out of the codes. The policy-makers are influenced by the money NAHB spends on lobbying all across the country. If they don't see and recognize that there is an adverse economic impact to their decisions, then they will side with the NAHB every single time. How would that impact fire protection and life safety in our communities? Surely, the results would not be positive for the citizens we protect.

As I had stated in my previous article titled "What's at Stake", for the past few months the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has made systematic, behind-the-scene maneuvering at the states level with the intent to erode the rights of the jurisdictions to adopt and enhance building construction codes at the local levels. This indeed is an outrageous overreach and sets a terrible precedent endangering the lives of the public and firefighters alike.

These special interest groups want the state legislators to grant them the right to adopt their own substandard building construction codes as they deem appropriate in serving their needs. And, to make matters even worse, they want the state legislatures to disallow the local jurisdictions from adopting a more stringent building construction code.

Money talks! And, the home builders are making a lot of political contributions across the country, and their voices are being heard at the state levels. At the state legislative level, the decision-makers are not at all familiar with the construction codes. Yet, one thing that those people, who know nothing about building and fire codes, all understand; is money. They are also well accustomed to review issues based on the cost-benefit analysis. And, if the possible gains are much smaller than the probable losses, they will not risk such investment. Logically (although politics and logic do not perfectly match) then, they would not risk losing federal grants for their jurisdiction for the sake of mere political contributions and personal gains. Money talks!

The state legislatures must realize that there could be an adverse financial impact on their jurisdiction as a direct result of their attempt to appease the NAHB in lowering the safety of our communities. And, guess what? If the magnitude of that adverse financial impact for non-compliance is significant enough, then they will think twice before granting NAHB's wish. After all, the state legislators and politicians are very pragmatic when it comes to money.

This way the states and local jurisdictions can have their Constitutional right to adopt any/all codes that they want. But, then they should not qualify to receive federal grants if they lower the national standards. After all, why should the taxpayers give them money to build substandard structures?

The point is that fire and life safety for the occupants and the firefighters alike must be respected and provided for as required by the national standards. Let the states and locals decide then. States and local jurisdictions can adopt anything they want. That is their right. But, if it is anything less than the nationally developed building and construction codes, then they won't receive the federal grants. How about that?

Am I asking for something that is unprecedented and too unreasonable? Is this approach too radical and way out in left field? Before you nod your head and answer yes, let me tell you that the very same organization that our beloved United States Fire Administration (USFA) resides in, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) utilizes this very same approach with their floods program.

Take a look at FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and then ask yourself why wouldn't the same concept work for fire?

If FEMA can do it for floods, then why couldn't USFA (which is also part of FEMA) do the same for fire? On FEMA's website it states:

"The Mitigation Directorate, a component of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), manages National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)...Nearly 20,000 communities across the United States and its territories participate in the NFIP by adopting and enforcing floodplain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage. In exchange, the NFIP makes Federally backed flood insurance available to homeowners, renters, and business owners in these communities. Community participation in the NFIP is voluntary.... Flood insurance is designed to provide an alternative to disaster assistance to reduce the escalating costs of repairing damage to buildings and their contents caused by floods. Flood damage is reduced by nearly $1 billion a year through communities implementing sound floodplain management requirements and property owners purchasing of flood insurance. Additionally, buildings constructed in compliance with NFIP building standards suffer approximately 80 percent less damage annually than those not built in compliance."