Atlantic City – Senate President Steve Sweeney joined with public officials, labor leaders and fire safety professionals today in support of legislation that would change the fire code to help protect residents and firefighters from the dangers of large-scale fires in light-frame residential properties.
The bill, S-1261/A-135, sponsored by Senator Brian Stack and Senator Linda Greenstein, would establish several construction code requirements and a fire watch requirement to help limit the spread of fires in larger light-frame residential buildings.
“We want to make fire safety a priority in New Jersey to prevent against the vulnerabilities of combustible materials that can allow fires to spread rapidly,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “Firefighters and residents are put in harm’s way by massive fires resulting from lightwood construction.”
New Jersey has been the site of major fires at wood-framed apartment complexes and structures, most notably in Lakewood, Maplewood, and Edgewater – the latter displacing more than 500 residents.
“Protecting lives should always be our first concern,” said Senator Stack (D-Hudson). “Light frame construction is not very fireproof because it is made of wood, and is not strong enough to resist major wind events such as tornadoes and hurricanes.”
The bill would strengthen firewall standards in all new multi-family construction. It would prohibit lightweight wood construction, which uses prefabricated wood structures, on buildings over three stories. The Avalon at Edgewater was built with lightweight wood framing, which some believe was the reason the fire spread rapidly through the whole building.
“New Jersey’s building code requires structures such as multi-dwelling units to be equipped with a sprinkler system, but it does not require them in unoccupied combustible spaces such as attics or the void spaces in floors and ceilings,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We need full sprinkler protection to prevent small fires from running laterally and vertically in unprotected areas.”
The measure also would limit the use of lightweight wood frame construction from four stories to three. It would affect any new multi-family or attached housing by requiring fire stops to seal openings in fire-rated walls that are on masonry walls at least every 30 feet. It also calls for construction of walls with a fire resistance rating of at least three hours in common area attics and lofts.
Also participating in the news conference were Assemblyman Wayne D’Angelo,
Essex County Executive Joe DiVencenzo, Ed Donnelly, President of FMBA, Dominic Marino, President PFANJ IAFF/AFL/CIO, Rich Silva, President, NJ Fire Prevention & Protection Association and Richard Mikutsky, Director of Fire Safety and NJ State Fire Marshal.