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In Aftermath of Greenville Comfort Inn Fire that Killed Six, New South Carolina Law Proposed Mandating Sprinkler Systems by July 2007

By Charles Williams, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Feb. 5, 2004 - A bill introduced in the state Senate would require most of the hotels in South Carolina to install sprinkler systems by July 2007, an idea that isn't sitting too well with at least one Lowcountry hospitality company. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Verne Smith of Greer, was authored in reaction to a fire Jan. 25 at a Greenville Comfort Inn that killed six people and injured 12. The Comfort Inn, built in the 1980s, didn't have sprinklers and wasn't required to have them because it was built before more stringent fire codes were enacted. 

At present, hotels without sprinklers are not required to install them unless a major renovation takes place. 

Buck Limehouse of Limehouse Properties, which owns and operates the Indigo Inn, Jasmine Inn and Meeting Street Inn, three bed-and-breakfast facilities in downtown Charleston, said Smith's bill is too vague. 

Limehouse said under the proposed bill, the Jasmine Inn would be exempt because it only has 10 rooms. The Indigo Inn, however, would have to put in a sprinkler system because it has 40 rooms. The Meeting Street Inn, which has 56 rooms, has a sprinkler system. 

"The Indigo Inn is a fireproof building," he said, adding that it is built of bricks and cement and has outside corridors. It also has smoke alarms. 

The victims in the Greenville fire were found in an inside corridor and were believed to have died as a result of smoke inhalation. 

Limehouse said installing a sprinkler system in the Indigo Inn would be expensive and "an unnecessary burden on small business." "All lodging operators are in favor of safety, but let the local authorities inspect and determine whether you need it or not," he said. 

Duane Parrish, past president of the Charleston area hotel and motel association and general manager at the Hampton Inn on Daniel Island, said he thinks the legislation is a good idea. But Parrish agrees with Limehouse, saying that the bill needs to be clearer. 

"It depends on the structure," he said, adding that lodging establishments built out of brick and stone are unlikely to catch fire. 

"There has to be some sort of waiver," he said. 

Rick Widman, president of Charming Inns Inc., which owns Kings Courtyard Inn as well as the John Rutledge House, Fulton Lane Inn and Victoria House Inn, put sprinkler systems in all of his inns. 

He said his establishments do a lot of business with government agencies whose employees are required to stay in facilities that have sprinkler systems. 

"They won't stay with you if you don't. Also, you get tremendous savings on your insurance costs," he said. 

Trip Hays of the Mills House, president of the local hotel and motel association, said the group's board has not taken a position on the legislation yet but that "we all want public safety." Today, the presence of sprinklers depends on a number of factors, including when a property was built, how many stories it is and whether rooms open to the inside or the outside. 

All new hotels are required to have a sprinkler system. In older hotels, they might or might not be present, depending on the codes in place when they were built. 

-----To see more of The Post and Courier, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to 

(c) 2004, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. 


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