The International Association of Fire Chiefs ( ) and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) are asking Congress to enact the Safe Building Code Incentive Act (SBCIA), which provides financial incentives for states to adopt and enforce building codes. The SBCIA was introduced in the House and Senate this week.
“There is no question among first responders, and the fire service in particular, that strong building codes provide vital life-safety protection during natural disasters such as wildfires,” said Chief Hank Clemmensen, IAFC president and chairman of the board, in a statement.
This bill would provide qualifying states with an additional 4% of Stafford Act grant funding available for post-disaster assistance if builders and contractors use nationally recognized model building codes. Specifically, states would need to adopt and enforce the International Residential Code (IRC) from one of the two most recent updates.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 25 major disasters during the past two years each cause more than $1 billion in economic losses. The huge financial cost of these events is staggering, said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. The best way to reduce lost is to enact nationwide, minimum building code standards.
Currently, there is little consistency across the U.S. when it comes to enacting and enforcing building standards, Rochman said.
“There are a number of states that do neither,” Rochman said. “Some of them just enact, some just enforce, but there are an amazing number of states that do not have a statewide building code nor enforce the codes already on their books.”
In fact, Rochman said 12 states currently would qualify for the extra federal dollars. There are 10 that would qualify with code modifications. Fourteen states have adopted the codes but lack enforcement authorization.
The bill would level the playing field for contractors and builders who would be forced to adhere to a national standard. Rochman noted that building code standards are based on the minimum requirements needed to construct a building that is safe for occupancy and for first responders.
“People may complain that the codes are complicated … and that may be,” she said. “No system is perfect. But we should certainly have a minimum standard that applies to every American, not just some jurisdictions.”
Rochman said fire chiefs currently in Washington, D.C., at the CFSI conference should take time to meet with their senators face-to-face and ask them for their support by passing the SBCIA.
“It’s very hard to say no to a fire chief standing in front of you talking about the life safety of first responders,” she said.