U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith Reintroduce Legislation to Improve Fire Safety in Public Housing

WASHINGTON, D.C. [8.3.23] – U.S. Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar (both D-MN) reintroduced legislation to help install sprinkler systems in older public housing buildings. Companion legislation was also introduced in the House by U.S. Representatives Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ 15) and John Rutherford (R-FL 05) with support from Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN 5).

Smith originally introduced the Public Housing Fire Safety Act following the tragic Cedar High Apartments fire, which took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2019. The upper floors of the building, where the fire erupted, did not have sprinkler systems installed.

“In the wake of the tragic 2019 Cedar High Apartments Fire, I joined Senator Smith in introducing legislation to ensure that buildings have properly installed fire and sprinkler systems. Every second counts during a house fire, and with up-to-date systems, more lives can be saved,” said Klobuchar. “We need to continue these efforts by passing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act to bring us one step closer towards ensuring that buildings are safe for all residents.”

“The fire at Cedar High Apartments was a tragic loss for the Cedar-Riverside community,” said Smith. “In the aftermath of the tragedy, I began connecting with people closely affected the fire and looking into ways to prevent it from happening again. This bill gets to the root of what we need to do: incentivize public housing authorities to install sprinkler systems and give them the support they need to do it.” 

“One of the most important investments our federal government can make when it comes to addressing life safety issues in public housing is retrofitting with fire sprinkler systems. Fire sprinklers protect property and save the lives of both residents and the firefighters who respond in the event of an emergency,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI). “CFSI thanks Senators Smith, Klobuchar, and Gillibrand for introducing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act, which would help ensure that our nation’s public housing is better protected from the threat of fire.”

“I thank Senator Smith and Representatives Watson Coleman and Rutherford for introducing the Public Housing Fire Safety Act of 2023,” said Chief Donna Black, President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and Fire Chief of the Duck (North Carolina) Fire Department. “Recent tragic fires have demonstrated the elevated risk to families living in public housing. We know that automatic fire sprinklers save lives and protect property. I urge Congress to pass this legislation that will directly contribute to saving lives by increasing the number of homes protected by fire sprinklers.”

“The Public Housing Fire Safety Act is both a crucial and necessary solution to improving the safety of public housing facilities and protecting the lives of tenants across the country,” Trinidad Uribe, President, USA Sprinkler Fitters Association. “These long overdue investments to install automatic sprinkler systems in public housing will undoubtedly enhance the overall safety of these facilities and save countless lives. The USA Sprinkler Fitters Association is proud to support this legislation as well its champions in Congress, and we look forward to continuing to work to secure its passage in the 118th Congress.”

The Federal Fire Safety Act of 1992 required the installation of sprinklers in all newly constructed government-owned high rise buildings. However, according to data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are thousands of public housing apartment buildings around the country built before that date. Nearly all of the high-rise public housing buildings in Minneapolis, Minnesota were built before the mandatory sprinkler system laws look effect.

The Public Housing Fire Safety Act would create an annual $25 million competitive grant program to provide funds to public housing authorities who wish to retrofit older high-rise apartment buildings with sprinkler systems and help prevent future tragedies.

Senator Smith has long advocated for increased safety measures in public housing. In 2021, she led a hearing as Chair of a key housing subcommittee on ways to ensure families living in federally subsidized housing were safe from health and risks such as lead, radon, and fire hazards. In 2021, Smith and Klobuchar also secured $2 million in funding for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority to install fire sprinklers in outdated public housing.