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Jefferson City may require more apartments to install fire sprinkler systems

A Jefferson City subcommittee is working to require more apartment complexes to install fire sprinkler systems.

Right now, the city’s code states that new construction of any apartments with 10 units or more must install sprinklers.

The proposed change would instead require new apartments with more than four units to put in the sprinkler systems, matching the International Code Council’s recommendation.

The amendment would not require existing apartments to be retrofitted.

In late 2016, Jefferson City firefighters responded to four apartment fires that displaced families.

ABC 17 News got a firsthand look inside an apartment on East High Street after one of the blazes forced 11 people to find new homes.

Then last month, firefighters responded to another apartment fire on North Ventura Avenue. But the family in that fire was able to return to their home shortly after.

The difference? Fire sprinklers.

“The apartment that we had on the west end of the city had very minor damage,” said Division Chief Jason Turner, with the Jefferson City Fire Department. “We shut the sprinkler system down. I’m sure those families were able to return to that very quickly. But if you take an apartment fire like we had here on the east end of the city, those families are actually displaced from the building. And the one on High Street, they’re still displaced today.”

The Mid-Missouri Apartment Association sent a letter requesting that the city not make the code amendment.

The association’s president, Jana Millard, told ABC 17 News the change would be too costly and make it more difficult to build affordable housing.

But JCFD said sprinklers are worth the extra cost.

“I think the argument of saying that their cost is overwhelming, that it’s unaffordable, is incorrect,” Turner said. “We’ve proved on this last Habitat home that we did it for right at around $1.25/$1.50 a square foot. … You have to step back and say, what is a life worth?”

Next month, the proposed code amendments will be presented to the full committee and City Council. The council must approve the change before it goes into effect.

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