Vitale-Codey ‘Group Home Fire Safety Act’ Approved By Senate Health Panel

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Measure Would Protect Vulnerable Residents Living in Group Homes from Fire

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Richard J. Codey that would protect vulnerable and often non-mobile residents living in group homes from injury or death caused by fire by requiring that any new group home have sprinkler and fire alarm systems installed was approved yesterday by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“Group homes are often filled with residents who are immobile and unable to quickly evacuate without assistance in case of a fire,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “This common-sense legislation will ensure that going forward group homes are equipped with sprinkler systems and fire alarms and that in turn, such systems and alarms may prevent the death or injury from fire of one of the state’s group homes’ residents.”

“If a fire erupts inside of a group home, it may be difficult to get all of the patients and residents safely evacuated before the blaze spreads, particularly considering mobility concerns of many of these residents,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex and Morris. “Sprinkler systems can help to contain the spread of a fire and with their installation, group homes will have more time to evacuate their residents.”

The “Group Home Fire Safety Act,” S-1255, would require the installation of automatic fire suppression systems and fire alarm protection systems in common areas and bedrooms of all new group homes throughout the state whether they are newly constructed or converted residential or commercial buildings.

The bill would affect licensed community residences for the developmentally disabled or mentally ill, community residences for the terminally ill and community residences for persons with traumatic brain injury which have approved service contracts or affiliation arrangements with a state agency or department, are owned by a non-profit, and whose property receives tax-exempt status.

The bill would also establish the “Group Home Safety Trust Fund” that would provide interest-free loans to the entities that operate group homes for all or part of the cost of installing sprinkler systems.

The bill was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee with a vote of 8-0-2. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review.