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Minneapolis high-rise fire deaths prompt call for sprinkler requirements in tall buildings

In response to a deadly fire in a Minneapolis high-rise last fall, a group of Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday, Feb. 5, proposed legislation that would require nearly all tall apartment buildings to install automatic sprinkler systems.

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A fire at Cedar High Apartments killed five people early Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. Nick Ferraro / St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — In response to a deadly fire in a Minneapolis high-rise last fall, a group of Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday, Feb. 5, proposed legislation that would require nearly all tall apartment buildings to install automatic sprinkler systems.

Five people died Nov. 27, 2019, in an early-morning fire at Cedar High Apartments, a 25-story building near downtown Minneapolis. Those deaths could have been prevented if the 1960s-era building had sprinklers on its upper floors, Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said at a Capitol news conference announcing the bill.

"Sprinklers are the best protection you can have," Steve Zaccard, St. Paul’s former fire marshal, told reporters.

A 1979 law requires all new government-owned buildings to install sprinkler systems, but up to 40 buildings constructed before that year do not have sprinklers.

Twenty-six of those high-rises are in Minneapolis, Dziedzic said. The St. Paul Public Housing Authority has installed sprinklers in its 16 high-rise apartment buildings.

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The bill would require all buildings 75 feet tall or higher to install sprinklers by 2032. Dziedzic said proponents will seek state funds to help public housing authorities comply with the sprinkler requirement.

How much money? The bill doesn’t say, but Rep. Alice Hausman, a St. Paul DFLer who chairs the House housing committee, said the funding could come from a $100 million bonding proposal sought by public housing advocates. "It’s going to be a high priority for us this year," she said.

Dziedzic said lawmakers also could attach a separate appropriation to their bill later.

The Legislature passed two measures in the mid-1990s that would have required sprinklers in high-rise apartments, but then-Gov. Arne Carlson vetoed both bills. He recently said those vetoes were a mistake.

Related Topics: ST. PAUL
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