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Lagana Introduces Bill to Bolster Lightweight Construction Regulations

Legislation Comes After Edgewater Fire Displaces 1,000 Residents

Assemblyman Joseph Lagana has introduced legislation to help prevent residential fires and ensure the safety of New Jersey residents living in apartment buildings.

The legislation comes in response to a five-alarm fire that destroyed a 408-unit apartment complex on Jan. 21 in Edgewater. The incident highlighted the extreme speed with which light frame construction, such as that used in the development, can reach its failure point when exposed to fire.

“The Edgewater fire earlier this year put residents at The Avalon and the first responders who came to the rescue in grave danger,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Prohibiting the use of lightweight construction will help limit the speed of fire spread in the event of an emergency and decrease the risk of fatalities and serious injury.”

The bill (A-4626) would prohibit the use of light frame construction for multiple dwellings in municipalities with a population density of more than 5,000 per square mile.

Under the legislation, a multiple dwelling may be constructed with light frame construction in a municipality with fewer than 5,000 persons per square mile only if:

– the dwelling is less than three stories in height;

– vertical fire barriers made of noncombustible materials with a minimum two-hour burn rating, such as concrete or masonry, are installed between walls separating dwelling units in the same building and walls separating dwelling units from other occupied areas contiguous to them in the same building;
– horizontal fire barriers made of noncombustible materials with a minimum two-hour burn rating are installed between floors separating dwelling units; and
– an automatic sprinkler system is installed throughout the structure, in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 13 code standards.

The bill also would require owners and developers of multiple dwellings utilizing light frame construction to secure a 24-hour fire watch guard to monitor construction projects. The guard, who would continue to monitor the building for 48 hours following the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, would alert local first responders in the event of a fire and report fire safety issues to the Division of Fire Safety in the Department of Community Affairs.

The measure also would require each entrance of a structure made with light frame or truss construction to bear an emblem identifying it as such to warn firefighters and the general public. Current law only requires an emblem at the front entrance.

The bill was referred to the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.