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Prieto, Eustace, Lagana, Jimenez, Vainieri Huttle Fire Safety Legislation for Multi-Unit Buildings Approved by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vincent Prieto, Tim Eustace, Joseph Lagana, Angelica Jimenez, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to improve fire safety at multi-unit residential buildings, both during and after construction was released by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

The bills (A-96 and A-97) seek to modify the state’s Construction Code to address fire safety issues brought to light by the major fire in Edgewater in 2015, as well as others that have occurred around the state.

“After the horrible fire that happened in Edgewater I met with many stakeholders involved in this important issue with a goal of creating a legislative solution that will address the safety issues that have become apparent in large residential development in our state,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “These are two bills that will help prevent another disaster like the ones we have seen from ever happening again.”

“We must make every effort to prevent large scale fires like the incident in Edgewater,” said Jimenez (D-Hudson/Bergen). “Starting with small changes to the way we construct multi-unit residential buildings is a good first step.”

“Changes to New Jersey’s construction codes would make a real difference in fire safety for residents and all involved in keeping them safe,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We know now that it begins with construction of homes that will protect residents from incidents like the devastating Edgewater Borough fire in 2015.”

“Specific fire safety standards should be followed when constructing multiple housing units in close proximity to one another,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We want developers to focus on safety when building these multi-dwellings and it starts with reviewing our construction codes and making the necessary changes.”

“Hundreds of families lost their homes and many were displaced as a result of the fire in Edgewater,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Slight changes to our construction codes will help to ensure something like this will be less likely to happen again.”

The bills would make several changes to the Construction Code aimed at improving fire safety, including:
· Mandating that fire suppression sprinkler systems be installed in concealed combustible spaces such as common cocklofts and other locations not covered by current building codes in lightweight wood construction exceeding two stories, consistent with NFPA 13 regulations;
· Mandating that unprotected and unheated wood-framed attic areas shall be protected by a dry type sprinkler system in buildings composed of lightweight wood construction;
· Limiting height of lightweight wood construction buildings that do not meet NFPA 13 regulations to two or fewer stories, and limiting per story floor area to 10,000 square feet unless a minimum two-hour masonry or concrete fire wall is included between each attached building;
· Implementing a Fire Watch at major residential construction sites during times when construction crews are not at work staffed by at least one dedicated person with expertise in fire safety.

The sponsors said the legislation was proposed in response to a large uncontrolled fire that occurred in January 2015 at a multiple dwelling complex in Edgewater Borough, New Jersey. The fire, which burned for several days before finally being extinguished, destroyed 240 of the 408 dwelling units and displaced over 500 residents. Another 520 residents in surrounding homes were temporarily displaced.

Both bills were released by the Assembly Regulated Professions Committee. It will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.