Walker reverses course on removing electrical safety codes

2012-09-25T06:15:00Z 2012-09-26T19:32:02Z Walker reverses course on removing electrical safety codesMARY SPICUZZA | Wisconsin State Journal | mspicuzza@madison.com | 608-252-6122 madison.com

Gov. Scott Walker has changed course on plans to remove fire-safety requirements from the state electrical code. Walker is now directing state officials to leave in place rules designed to detect fire-causing conditions and stop electric shocks, and to keep children from sticking foreign objects into electrical outlets.

"After reviewing some of the concerns raised with the proposed modifications to the rule, Governor Walker directed (the Department of Safety and Professional Services) to forgo any changes to the current rule," Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said Monday in an email to the State Journal.

The State Journal reported last week that the Walker administration was revising the code to eliminate the mandatory safety requirements. But electrical inspectors and fire fighters slammed the proposal and said they had not been consulted about the code change.

On Monday, fire safety inspectors applauded Walker's change of plans.

"That's wonderful," Joe Jameson, electrical inspector for the city of Middleton and president of the South Western Wisconsin Electrical Inspectors Association, said of Walker's decision. "That was our hope when we first heard about this."

Jameson said he had been emailing and calling fire chiefs, fire safety inspectors, building inspectors, electrical inspectors and others, encouraging them to contact the governor's office to voice their concerns, in hopes that "common sense would prevail."

"We were just trying to get anybody on board that we could to put pressure on the governor's office to realize that this was not a good idea," Jameson said.

The state safety and professional services department "received a handful of concerns from various professions, including electrical inspectors and a Reverend," department spokeswoman Angie Hellenbrand said in an email.

"Given the concerns raised over the last few weeks, DSPS agrees with Gov. Walker in withdrawing" the plan, she said.

The Wisconsin Builders Association had suggested that a change in code was needed to state officials, its vice president Jerry Deschane told the State Journal. Deschane said Monday that his organization understands Walker has to consider a number of factors when deciding whether to change codes.

"The administration has to weigh a lot of things when it's considering whether to pursue changes," Deschane said. "They decided not to pursue the changes, and we're fine with that."

Current code requires builders to install arc-fault circuit-interrupter (AFCI) protection, ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protection, and tamper-resistant receptacles in new construction and most remodeling.

AFCI, which has been required in Wisconsin since 2010 but is a national electrical code requirement, detects electrical arcs from cracked, broken or damaged electrical insulation and shuts off power to the circuit before the arcing leads to a fire, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. An electrical arc can be caused by cracked, broken or damaged electrical insulation on wiring, either within the walls or from a damaged cord. If combustible material is nearby, then the potential for an electrical fire exists.

The new plan would have made installation of those devices optional. Deschane said such devices had "reliability problems," and as a result talked to state officials about changing the code.

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Sauk City, applauded Walker's decision to abandon the safety rules, but said they should have never been under consideration.

"Wisconsin citizens, though, should continue to ask why well-connected individuals have enough influence in the executive office to generate these kind of proposals to begin with," Clark said. "It's the wrong way to do business."

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