W. Va. House Passes Fire Code Update, Rolls Back Requirement On Home Safety Equipment

Jan 23, 2020

The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Thursday that would roll back certain fire safety regulations. Some lawmakers said this move will increase the risk of electrical home fires, while the bill’s proponents said it would save constituents some money.  

House Bill 4275 from Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam County, is the first bundle of rule changes the House has voted on this session. According to Foster, it’s mostly just adopting recommendations the National Fire Protection Association made a few years ago. 

Most notably, the bill rolls back state rules requiring homeowners to install arc fault circuit interrupters, or AFCIs, in several rooms of the house. 

According to remarks Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, made on the floor Wednesday afternoon, West Virginia has required AFCIs in home bedrooms since 2002. She said the state increased the required number of rooms in 2014.

“This would be unprecedented,” she said Wednesday, before requesting lawmakers amend the bill to remove this provision. “This would take us backwards.”

Her amendment failed Wednesday 40 to 58 with two delegates not voting.

Foster and others who said they support this provision said it was about saving dollars for constituents. The price of an AFCI and its installation varied from legislator to legislator, from $35 per device to $50. 

“I don’t understand this,” Fleischauer said Wednesday. Citing testimony she heard when first considering the bill in committee, she said installing an AFCI in all of the required rooms probably costs a homeowner about $200 total. “Do you think that saving is going to be passed onto the consumers? Why is this being done?”

On Thursday, Fleischauer called on the House to vote against passing the bill in its entirety, due to the rollback of the AFCI requirement. 

“As a first responder, I have to agree with Del. Fleischauer,” Del. Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, said. “We are rolling back … safety regulations. We talk about families that could lose everything, lose their home. Let’s talk about the first responders … Why in the world would we ever vote for a bill that rolls back safety regulations that puts more men and women at risk? Let’s think about this.”

Foster highlighted other things the bill accomplishes, including updates to requirements for sprinklers, smoke alarms, outdoor exits and fireworks.

Del. Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, who requested the failed amendment on Wednesday with Fleischauer, said Thursday he was voting for the bill anyway due to another provision — one relating to locks for active shooter situations, and their accessibility to fire officials.

“The amendment didn’t go the way I wanted it to yesterday,” Westfall said. “I still think … there’s a lot of good things in this [bill].”

The measure now heads to the Senate. 

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.