On April 17, the Commonwealth of Virginia experienced the 31st civilian fire fatality for 2018. This is more than half the number Virginia experienced for all of 2017. The Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office is attempting to perform data analysis to identify trends and potential actions; however, we are encountering incomplete or missing data in VFIRS.
Finally, in an effort to gather as much data as possible, SFMO Staff may go to fatal fire scenes or contact your offices directly for information. They are not there as investigators nor to interfere with your operations in any way. They are there to gather data to help us analyze and address the fire fatality problem on a statewide level.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation and assistance with this matter.
The Department of Fire Programs is delighted to report that Governor Ralph Northam listened to the concerns of Virginia’s Fire Service and has sent down amendments for HB1595 and SB972. As enrolled, these bills would restrict local authority and prohibit the adoption of regulations to restrict existing combustible landscape cover materials.
AMENDMENTS: The Governor’s amendments would narrow the scope of the bill and the prohibition would no longer apply to structures with increased fire risk.
The following structures were be exempted from these retrofit restrictions:
- Residential care facility operated by any state agency;
- Assisted living facilities;
- Student residence facilities owned or operated by a public institution of higher education;
- Buildings containing one or more dwelling units;
- Hotel or motel regularly used or intended to be used to provide overnight sleeping accommodations for one or more persons; or
- Rooming house regularly used to provide overnight sleeping accommodations.
WHY: These amendments address the critical fire and life safety concerns expressed by Virginia’s fire service during the 2018 General Assembly Session.
- Mulch is an inexpensive landscape material; however, it is highly combustible at the same time.
- As you can attest, fire departments across Virginia have experienced significant fires in recent years caused by improperly discarded smoking materials igniting combustible ground cover (mulch) that in turn ignited the combustible siding on buildings.
- According to the Virginia Fire Incident Reporting System, 835 total mulch fires occurred during 2016 and 2017.
- As a result, localities have the opportunity to exercise its authority outlined in §27-97 to adopt a nationally accepted standard to protect structures and citizens from fires involving outside combustible material.
- Aligning with that principle, the Governor’s amendments would allow localities to continue adopting local regulations that provide a higher-level fire protection in residential structures.
SEEKING YOUR SUPPORT FOR THE AMENDMENTS
We need your help on this bill. Please get in touch with your Delegates and Senators to express support for the amendment. The General Assembly will consider them next Wednesday, April 18, at the Reconvened Session. Governor Northam has listened to the concerns voiced by local officials, we urge you to continue your diligence to ensure your elected officials are aware of the implications of this bill and ensure the amendments are approved on April 18.
The Agency had a productive 2018 legislative session. See VDFP’s Legislative Tracking Page for bills that have passed the House and Senate.