Today, Chief Hank C. Clemmensen, 1st vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and chief of the Palatine Rural Fire Protection District of Inverness, Ill., testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. Clemmensen’s testimony addressed the importance of building-code requirements for effective hazard mitigation.
Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) presided over the hearing, during which Clemmensen stressed the severity of costly damage done to buildings through the result of not only fires, but windstorms, earthquakes and other disasters. Clemmensen noted, “The total cost of fire [in 2009], including insurance costs and local fire departments’ expenditures, was $331 billion,” 2.3% of the nation’s gross domestic product.
The IAFC believes that the adoption of H.R. 2069, which adds a 4% incentive to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, will encourage states to adopt the most current commercial and residential building codes—before disaster strikes.
Clemmensen testified that a large portion of the damage to buildings and danger to public and first responders’ lives could be avoided this way. This has been noted in a 2009 World Bank report that highlights the role California’s strict adherence to tough zoning and building codes played in reducing earthquake fatalities.
In his testimony, Clemmensen raised three issues for the committee to consider:
- The importance of states adopting model codes, including residential fire-sprinkler requirements, without making substantial changes
- The importance of allowing local jurisdictions to adopt more stringent codes than the state model codes
- The importance of ensuring that both building and fire codes are covered by this legislation
Clemmensen highlighted the fact that the United States suffers from “one of the worst fire problems in the civilized world,” resulting in over 20,000 casualties in 2010. In order to avoid unnecessary injuries and deaths, the IAFC supports H.R.2069, which sets incentives for states that adopt strict residential and commercial building codes in all commercial and residential buildings.
Review Clemmensen’s written testimony (pdf).