July 27, 2023

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman and John Rutherford Introduce Legislation to Equip Public Housing Units with Fire Sprinklers

Washington, D.C. (July 27, 2023) – Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and John Rutherford (FL-05) reintroduced the Public Housing Fire Safety Act. The bipartisan legislation provides funding for public housing authorities to equip older units with sprinkler systems, improving the safety of residents and local communities.

American families are the foundation of our country and more than worth the investment. The Public Housing Fire Safety Act will provide homes with much safer equipment –– all while keeping in mind the safety and health of our most vulnerable.

“Sprinkler systems have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to prevent widespread damage and loss of life in the event of a fire,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “As this country faces emergency after emergency, it's our responsibility to mitigate and provide solutions so American people aren’t suffering. By ensuring our citizens living in public housing have the most basic fire safety measures, they become the priority. The added benefit that it will help save the lives of our nation’s bravest makes this a no-brainer.”

“Older public housing units are often not up to code, leaving residents exposed to potential hazards,” said Congressman Rutherford. “I am proud to join Congresswoman Watson Coleman to reintroduce the bipartisan Public Housing Fire Safety Act to provide grants to public housing authorities as they update older facilities with sprinkler systems. This simple change can prevent unnecessary disasters and ensure residents, their belongings, and our fire rescue teams are kept safe.”

Thousands of public housing apartment buildings around the country were built before the Federal Fire Safety Act of 1992 when fire sprinklers were required in all new government-owned buildings, leaving over two million Americans living in public housing at risk. Some cities are particularly at risk due to their older housing stock. For example, 296 out of 316 New York City Housing Authority developments are at least 30 years old. Public housing authorities regularly work with limited budgets and without the resources to update and improve fire safety.

“There are a large number of public housing units put in service before fire sprinklers were required.  Every year these public housing units get older, as do the many of the residents,” said Shane Ray President of the National Fire Sprinkler Association. “Every firefighter in this country knows that fire sprinklers save lives, and this important legislation will allow more public housing authorities to retrofit their units with fire sprinklers.  This is not only good news for the residents of public housing who will finally be protected but also for firefighters across the nation.  We have never lost a firefighter in a fully sprinklered structure in this country, that is how effective fire sprinklers are.  As a former Fire Chief and State Fire Marshal I know the impact this legislation will have and urge Congress to quickly move the legislation.” 

“Statistics consistently show that fire sprinklers save lives,” said Steve Hirsch, Chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “As such, sprinklers should be installed in as many structures as possible, especially in those that are federally managed. I commend Rep. Watson Coleman for introducing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act. This legislation would greatly improve the safety of public housing high-rise residents and the first responders who serve them.” 

“I thank Senator Smith and Representatives Watson Coleman and Rutherford for introducing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act of 2023,” said Chief Donna Black, President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and Fire Chief of the Duck (North Carolina) Fire Department. “Recent tragic fires have demonstrated the elevated risk to families living in public housing. We know that automatic fire sprinklers save lives and protect property. I urge Congress to pass this legislation that will directly contribute to saving lives by increasing the number of homes protected by fire sprinklers.”

"One of the most important investments our federal government can make when it comes to addressing life safety issues in public housing is retrofitting with fire sprinkler systems. Fire sprinklers protect property and save the lives of both residents and the firefighters who respond in the event of an emergency," said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI). "CFSI thanks Representatives Watson Coleman and Rutherford for introducing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act, which would help ensure that our nation's public housing is better protected from the threat of fire."

“The Public Housing Fire Safety Act is both a crucial and necessary solution to improving the safety of public housing facilities and protecting the lives of tenants across the country,” said Trinidad Uribe, President, USA Sprinkler Fitters Association. “These long overdue investments to install automatic sprinkler systems in public housing will undoubtedly enhance the overall safety of these facilities and save countless lives. The USA Sprinkler Fitters Association is proud to support this legislation as well as its champions in Congress, and we look forward to continuing to work to secure its passage in the 118th Congress.”

 The Public Housing Fire Safety Act:

  • Creates a grant program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide funds to public housing authorities who wish to retrofit old high-rise apartments to install automatic sprinkler systems in certain public housing projects. 

  • Collects data on the status of sprinkler installations and submit a report to Congress on the presence or absence of automatic sprinkler systems in public housing with recommendations to improve fire safety.

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act is cosponsored by: John H. Rutherford (FL-05), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Ritchie Torres (NY-15), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), André Carson (IN-07), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Dina Titus (NV-01), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At Large), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Alma S. Adams (NC-12)

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act has also received support from the following organizations: The National Fire Sprinkler Association, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA), the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), Minnesota NAHRO, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters, the USA Sprinkler Fitters Association, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, and the Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council.

The Public House Fire Safety Act can be read here

A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate by Tina Smith of Minnesota and is cosponsored by Senators Klobuchar of Minnesota and Gillibrand of New York.