Incentives for sprinklers

State lawmakers are unlikely to mandate sprinkler systems in every commercial building in the state. But House Speaker Bobby Harrell's proposal to provide tax credits to businesses and possibly home developers to encourage installation of sprinklers could be an incentive to make buildings safer.

The June furniture store blaze in Charleston and last month's Ocean Isle beach house fire have helped fuel the latest movement to make it less costly to install fire sprinklers in businesses and homes. Harrell said last week that he intends to introduce legislation to provide the tax breaks when the Legislature convenes in January, and Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell plans a companion bill in the Senate.

This would make South Carolina the first state in the nation to provide tax credits for fire sprinklers. Some lawmakers hope to combine the incentive with mandated reductions in insurance premiums for those who install sprinkler systems.

But support appears unlikely for a separate proposal by state Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, that would require fire sprinklers in all commercial buildings, no matter what the age. State senators scrapped a similar bill in 2004 that would have required all hotels and motes in the state to be equipped with sprinklers by July 1, 2007.

That bill was introduced in the wake of a fire at the Greenville Comfort Inn that killed six people and injured 12. The five-story hotel, built in the 1980s, had not been required to install sprinklers.

We think, at a minimum, all new hotels and motels built in South Carolina should be required to install automatic sprinkler systems. But tax breaks and reduced insurance premiums are a good way to help alleviate the financial burden on any business or residential developer that installs sprinklers.

Sprinklers clearly contribute to the safety of the occupants of any building. But requiring them in every business in the state would be impractical.

For one, even with tax incentives, installing sprinkler systems in existing buildings could put some enterprises out of business. And sprinklers could affect the integrity of historic buildings, a point that helped sink the proposal in 2004.

The state could, however, require operators of hotels, motels and inns without sprinkler systems to notify guests, who then can make an informed decision about whether to stay the night.

Meanwhile, a tax break that encourages the installation of sprinkler systems in more buildings, whether businesses or homes, is a good idea. And South Carolina would be leading the way for the rest of the nation.