Rep. Kremer trying to save church Christmas trees

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Local Assembly Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) is working on legislation that would allow Christmas trees in local churches and the rotunda at the state capitol.

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According to Kremer when the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) adopted the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire code a few years ago it included that live vegetation, including Christmas trees/wreaths, were no longer allowed in places with large gatherings if there is not a sprinkler system.

The places that typically use large, live Christmas trees are older churches without sprinkler systems.

“We learned from DSPS and Legislative Council that fire chiefs still have the authority to allow this practice, but that is very subjective,” Kremer said.

“After speaking with our local fire chief, he has stated that live vegetation will no longer be allowed in Kewaskum churches without sprinklers.  Period.  It is my understanding that the Capitol rotunda does not have an automatic sprinkler system either so, effectively, an activist fire chief in Madison could ban it in the people’s building also.”

Church mutual, the insurance company that covers many churches, has said flat out it would be suicide for their company if they did not cover live vegetation and thus, have no issue with a church exemption.

“Sen. Stroebel and I are requesting that the Wisconsin state capitol and religious institutions be immune from any live vegetation requirements addressed in the NFPA Administrative Code,” said Kremer.  “I am going to be talking to the speaker on this today to see if we can still tackle this during the 2015-2016 session.”

Staff attorney Zach Ramirez with the Wisconsin Legislative Council has found:

-A church may display a natural-cut Christmas tree indoors if the local fire authority determines that adequate safeguards are provided.

-This provision comes from the 2012 version of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Code, which the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) has incorporated into its administrative rules. [s. SPS 314.001 (1), Wis. Adm. Code.<http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/sps/safety_and_buildings_and_environment/301_319/314/I/001>

-Although the NFPA Fire Code prohibits a Christmas tree from being displayed in a church, it also states that “In any occupancy, limited quantities of combustible vegetation shall be permitted where the AHJ [Authority Having Jurisdiction] determines that adequate safeguards are provided based on the quantity and nature of the combustible vegetation.” [See sections 10.14.1.1 and 10.14.2 of the attached NFPA document.]

-DSPS has issued guidance on this topic that is available here: http://dsps.wi.gov/Documents/Industry%20Services/Forms/Fire%20Prevention/Publications/Natural%20cut%20trees.pdf

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