Deadly Fire Raises Concerns Over lack of Sprinklers

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As Sioux Falls Fire Rescue investigators learn what caused an apartment fire that killed a woman and child, questions are raised about the apartment's safety.

Officials say there were smoke detectors inside the apartment, but the building lacked potentially life-saving fire sprinklers.

"The biggest benefit is giving people the opportunity to escape the building or get out before anybody gets injured," Fire Inspector Berry Maag said.

Once the area around the fire reaches 155 degrees, the heat breaks a glass tube, releasing water to contain the fire until it's turned off by firefighters.

"Sprinklers work as a way of localizing the fire damage as well as the ability of the fire to grow," Sioux Falls Fire Marshall Dean Lanier said.

But since 2003, only half of new apartment construction in Sioux Falls has fire sprinklers.

"We are at a lesser life safety level for sprinkling multi-family units than the rest of the country," Chief Building Official Ron Bell said.

Chief Building Official Ron Bell says Sioux Falls code remains nearly unchanged since 1984. Fire sprinklers are only required in housing with 17 units or more or with three levels or higher.

That's why the apartments in Tuesday's deadly fire only had smoke detectors. But Bell and Lanier would like to see that changed.

"Residential occupancy which is sprinkled, has an extremely small death rate, practically nothing because sprinklers save the property but they also save lives," Bell said.

A fire sprinkler task force meets Thursday morning, in an effort to persuade the Sioux Falls City council to rethink the sprinkler code.

Opponents to the fire sprinklers say they increase housing costs which can be an additional one to five percent of construction costs.