Officials Call For Upgrades on Fire and Building Codes

August 24, 2015
Officials are calling for an upgrade on fire and safety measures at apartment projects.

By Brenda Flanagan

“It’s a lumberyard in the sky. I wouldn’t live here. I would never live here,” said Jack Murphy.

Here is the AvalonBay apartment complex in Edgewater. Murphy and other firefighters couldn’t stop it from burning to the ground seven months ago in a spectacular blaze that lit the skyline for miles and fortunately claimed no human lives. Investigators say a workman with a torch accidentally started the fire in an unsprinklered interior space and the fire spread through inside walls.

When firefighters arrived, Murphy said, “They open up the ceiling and when they do that the lieutenant says the fire’s ripping left and right of them, going right past them. Well, the fire’s in the walls. It’s in the horizontals and the verticals. You can’t see it from the outside. Once it got to the outside it got into the eaves and took everything down.”

“This is a clear and present danger for us, with these buildings. They’re proliferating all across the state of New Jersey, right now,” said Glenn Corbett.

Legally, Avalon Bay’s Edgewater complex was properly built to current state construction code fire safety standards for lightweight wood mid-rise apartments. But after it burned down, officials in other towns demanded that Avalon Bay upgrade fire safety measures at similar apartment projects, while fire officials across New Jersey called on the state to upgrade the overall code.

“End of August and we’re still waiting for the state to take action on it. And we know that the solutions are. There clear-cut, exactly what we need to do. But there’s no action in Trenton,” said Corbett.

Corbett’s with the Bergen Co Fire Chiefs Association. He says firefighters want the code to require sprinklers in these so-called void spaces and fire breaks inside the open cockloft that runs atop the entire complex. He says that the state Department of Community Affairs was supposed to draft changes. DCA tells us, information “…is being analyzed and will form the basis for the Department’s recommendations for possible code changes related to fire safety in buildings constructed in a way similar to that of the Edgewater building, and these recommendations are under review.” But currently there are no upgrades proposed for the 2015 Code.

“The new building code that’s gonna be up for adoption is in the governor’s office under review,” said Corbett.

When mentioned that Gov. Chris Christie’s in New Hampshire, Corbett said, “Right and he should be back in Edgewater talking to the state and all the firefighters telling us, ‘Hey. This is what I plan on doing.”

Avalon Bay confirmed it will install sprinklers and firewalls in its Princeton and Maplewood complexes, but had no further comment.

Firefighters admit extra sprinklers and fire breaks are more expensive, but they say it can be done without sending construction costs through the roof and that it would help avoid sending flames thru the roof.