When the Alabama Energy and Residential Codes Board met in late August to consider changes to the statewide building code, testimony got dramatic — especially with regard to the risk of fire. On the table was a proposal to delete the requirement for arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) from the statewide residential code. Speaking in opposition to that idea was burn victim Charlie Donaghe. The Montgomery Advertiser has the story (see: "Proposed Alabama building code change increases fire danger, opponents warn," by Andrew J. Yawn).

"A spark from a damaged electrical cord started the fire that consumed Charlie Donaghe's house Aug. 4, 1971," the paper reports. "Donaghe survived, but his lungs, half of his body and both of his corneas were burned in the blaze. He eventually lost one of his eyes and the scar tissue in his lungs prevents him from doing most physical activity." AFCIs were invented to prevent the sort of fire that so affected Donaghe's quality of life: they sense the waveforms of sparks from a defective circuit before a fire can start, tripping to cut off power to the wires.

But the Alabama Homebuilders Association is pushing to remove the AFCI requirement from the state's code. HBA Regulatory Affairs Director Jason Reid said localities, not the state, should decide whether to require AFCIs, and he said homebuyers, not the government, should decide whether the devices are worth their cost. 

"Reid says until the cost of the device can be factored into a house's appraised value, it's too much especially for builders in more rural areas," reports local TV station ABC3340 (see: "Fighting For You: Possible changes to home electrical code raising an alarm," by Honora Gathings). "People love to say pass it on to the consumer, pass it on to the consumer," said Reid. "I can't pass something to the consumer that I can't get appraisal for it. If the house costs 100 thousand and we pass along costs whether they are arc fault and the house now costs 103 thousand, the consumer can only buy the house for 100 thousand."