Fire officials: Sprinklers would have saved lives in Charleston store blaze

COLUMBIA -- Fire officials told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday that sprinklers could have saved the lives of nine Charleston firefighters who perished last year in one of the state's deadliest blazes.

The firefighters said they support legislation that offers tax breaks for installing sprinkler systems in commercial and residential buildings. South Carolina does not require sprinklers in commercial buildings and single-family homes.

"Gentlemen, if there's a fire at your house tonight, there's a one-thousand-to-one chance that we will be paying our last respects to you at the Statehouse in the next few days," said Ed Roper, superintendent of the S.C. Fire Academy, which trains firefighters.

Roper, who said three sprinklers could have doused the flames at the Charleston Sofa Store before firefighters even arrived on the scene, urged the Senate panel to include single-family residences in any new requirements it passes.

Dozens filled a hearing room where testimony was taken for the second consecutive week on the measure. It has strong backing from fire officials, but businesses, primarily home builders, are skeptical of the bill because of the cost of outfitting new buildings with sprinklers.

Family members of victims of the Charleston fire and the Ocean Isle, N.C., blaze that killed eight South Carolina college students again attended the hearings. They added no additional testimony to the emotional stories they told the committee last week.