Public hearing held on proposed changes to state's electrical code

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Those who build homes and those who fight fires discussed changes asked for by the Department of Safety and Professional Services to Wisconsin’s electrical code.

The public hearing was held in the rotunda of HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire.

One change in the 22 pages of proposals is increasing the requirement for sprinkler systems in apartment buildings from three units or larger to 20 units.

Eau Claire’s fire chief Christian Bell cites a fire this week at a 16-unit apartment building in sun prairie as an example of why this change would not work.

"Had there been sprinklers in this building ... if that building was built after this proposed change, it still will not be sprinkler where we want to say we want that building sprinkler when it's more than three,” Bell said to WEAU 13 News on Tuesday. “It's life safety. You know, for some in the industry with the Building Association, it may be about dollars.

“For us, it's about life safety. Not only the life safety of the occupants, but also the life safety of the firefighters that have to go fight these fires."

Another change being asked for is the elimination of requirements surrounding GFCI – or ground fault circuit interrupter – electrical outlets.

"It's a minimal cost in the entire aspect of it, but it has the ability to prevent risks, hazards, fire and the shock hazards to just the general lay-person who lives in these home as they're built," Bell said.

While these devices are improvements for older homes, master electrician Robert Gebert said the problems are not with the equipment.

"When they do studies on fires and things like that, it's usually not the material or equipment or the device that had the problem,” he said to WEAU 13 News. “It's the application and how it’s installed and maintained. So if it's not being installed me incorrectly, that's what the problem is."

Gebert said he hopes many of the changes are passed to bring Wisconsin’s codes to par with neighboring states.

"The more even the code is and staying consistent is better than switching it around," he said.

No decisions were made Tuesday. The Department of Safety and Professional Services will take all of the testimony from these hearings and prepare a final report of requested changes. That will go to Gov. Scott Walker for his approval.

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