Capitol Hill Compromises Affect Fire Service Bills

There is a lot to report this month from Capitol Hill on three bills of vital interest to the fire-rescue service: the FIRE Act grant program, the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Act to hire more firefighters and the Fire...


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Finally, the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act is in the process of being "scored" by the House Ways and Means committee and the Senate Finance committee. This is where they estimate the impact a tax bill will have on the federal budget. The vital question is whether it will lose or gain revenue or be neutral. The act is aimed at making it easier for property owners to install sprinklers by allowing them to depreciate the cost on their federal tax returns over a period of 51/2 years. Under current tax laws, it takes 27 years to amortize the cost of residential sprinklers and 39 years for commercial or industrial systems.

It's believed that the shorter depreciation schedule, when combined with lower insurance rates, will be a financial incentive to encourage property owners to install sprinklers. It also will help local jurisdictions that are trying to pass sprinkler laws. The cost always is a major obstacle to overcome when fire departments are opposed by developers, builders and property owners who don't want to spend money on sprinklers. If the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act can come close to being scored as "revenue neutral," it has a chance to make it through Congress and would be a tremendous breakthrough in the battle to save lives by preventing fatal fires.

A lot of people - fire service organizations, their lobbyists on Capitol Hill, members of Congress and their staffs - have worked hard to pass these bills. Most importantly, they've worked together and, even if the results are not perfect, they deserve our praise and our thanks.


Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, retired as political director for ABC News in Washington and served almost 40 years as a volunteer firefighter. He is a director of the Chevy Chase, MD, Fire Department and chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.