Philadelphia passes fire life safety legislation

Earlier this year, Philadelphia joined the growing list of cities, counties and states with fire life safety ordinances, laws and legislation to regulate the inspections of fire and smoke dampers and smoke suppression systems in commercial buildings.

For eight years, leadership from Local 19 and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) worked with the city council to educate members about the need for smoke suppression during a fire. City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell knows the necessity from a personal level — she survived the fire at the MGM Grand in 1980. According to official fire inspection report, “When the fusible links activated (as they should at their preset heat capacity), the dampers did not close properly. Dampers in the main unit over the casino were, in fact, bolted in such a manner as to make them inoperable, thus allowing the heated gases and smoke to continue to spread throughout the entire plenum and building.”

“She lived it. She wasn’t backing down. She lived through it, and she didn’t want anyone in our city to go through it, either,” said Todd Farally, recording secretary and political director for Local 19. “There are tens to hundreds of thousands of fire dampers in the city that haven’t been inspected.”

“She and her husband had to crawl out on their knees,” added Gary Masino, president and business manager of Local 19. “We asked her to sponsor this two years ago, and we got it done with her in 18 months. People can get lost in the weeds, but she was there that night. Her testimony was crucial.”

The legislation calls for the smoke and fire dampers in any commercial or residential building more than six stories to undergo inspection every four years. In addition to the city’s individual technician’s license, inspectors must have, as well, certification from the International Certification Board (ICB).

“It needed to be done. The manufacturer says it needs to be done. The code says it needs to be done,” Masino said. “We’re very involved with the city politics, and we were able to convince our elected officials that it was a public safety issue, and we weren’t making it up. It wasn’t something we invented. We’re responsible for these systems, and if they fail, people can die.”

Similar legislation was passed in Pittsburgh in the last few years, so Masino has his eyes set on a statewide law in the future.

“Now that Pittsburgh has fire life safety, and we have it, that’s both ends of the state,” he said. “Now, we need to focus on the middle. That’s a big lift.”

The Philadelphia fire life safety bill passed in January, signed in February and is set to take effect Jan. 1.

It took eight years from start to finish, and Masino insists there is no roadmap. Knowing local government and how it works is key, whether that’s done in-house at the local or hiring a professional lobbyist or lawyer to help get through the bureaucracy.

“We went into this wanting to put something on the table and get it done, but we weren’t going to get it done without friends,” Masino said. “We stood our ground.”

Advice to other locals going forward — stick to the safety, Farally said.

“Always push the safety aspect of it — that’s the core of this issue and should always be the core of this issue. That’s what’s going to resonate with the council,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to talk to the press about it. The public safety aspect of it is very hard to vote against. It took us eight years in the long run, and it really came down to relationship building and stressing the public aspect of this. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”

ICB/TABB is the first program to gain ANSI (American National Standards Institute) accreditation for certification in the testing, adjusting and balancing industry. Certification is a statement that the technician, supervisor and contractor demonstrate the highest level of professional expertise.

For more information on certification in the sheet metal industry, visit or call 703-299-5646.

ANSI (American National Standards Institute), Gary Masino, ICB/TABB, International Certification Board (ICB), Jannie Blackwell, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA), Sheet Metal Local 19, Todd Farally
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