The Anacortes City Council adopted on Monday the updated International Building Code but postponed a decision on requiring automatic fire sprinklers in larger, newly constructed buildings.

To give building occupants adequate time to leave the building in the event of a fire, Assistant Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Jack Kennedy had proposed automatic sprinkler systems be required in new buildings 3,600 square feet or greater. Planning Director Don Measamer changed the proposed requirement to 4,800 square feet or greater.

Driving the request was a lack of staffing. The national firefighting standard is 12 firefighters at the scene of a fire within 12 minutes 90% of the time.

“We don’t have enough people to meet that,” Kennedy told the City Council at an earlier meeting. “Under our current staffing, we have to wait until an additional fire engine gets on scene before we have enough staff” for a rescue.

Most council members said Monday the proposed sprinkler requirement misses the mark on several counts. The requirement would apply only to new construction, not older buildings. Also, sprinklers would not solve the staffing issue.

The department reportedly needs five more firefighters to meet national firefighting standards.

The staffing level is “something that will still hang over us even if we were to do the sprinkler (requirement),” council member Christine Cleland-McGrath said.

While sprinklers assist in the problem with new, large buildings only, an increase in department staffing would help the overall community on a daily basis, especially since most calls are medical rather than fire, she said.

The council agreed with Mayor Laurie Gere’s recommendation to adopt the building code update to comply with a deadline for cities to do so, hold off on the sprinkler requirement and continue to discuss staffing.

The International Building Code is a model used by most U.S. jurisdictions. It is updated every three years.

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