Assemblyman VINCENT PRIETO
District 32 (Bergen and Hudson)
Assemblyman TIM EUSTACE
District 38 (Bergen and Passaic)
Assemblyman JOSEPH A. LAGANA
District 38 (Bergen and Passaic)
Assemblywoman ANGELICA M. JIMENEZ
District 32 (Bergen and Hudson)
Assemblywoman VALERIE VAINIERI HUTTLE
District 37 (Bergen)
Amends State construction code to increase fire safety in large residential projects.
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
An Act concerning fire safety for certain types of construction and supplementing P.L.1975, c.217 (C.52:27D-119 et seq.).
Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. The adoption of the International Building Code, 2015, by the Commissioner of Community Affairs is modified as follows:
a. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 510 of the International Building Code, 2015, or any other provision of the code allowing for a horizontal building separation allowance, a building shall not be considered as separate and distinct buildings for the purpose of determining the maximum building height in feet or the number of stories of the building if the building, or a portion of the building, is Residential Group R-1 or R-2; and involves the use of Type III, Type IV, or Type V construction. The number of stories to be used in determining the minimum type of construction for such buildings shall be measured from the grade plane. Automatic sprinkler systems may be installed in such buildings in accordance with NFPA 13R, however, the sprinkler systems shall protect concealed combustible spaces consistent with NFPA 13.
b. Whenever an automatic sprinkler system is installed in accordance with NFPA 13R in a building comprised, in whole or in part, of lightweight wood frame construction:
(1) unprotected and unheated wood-framed attic areas shall be protected by a dry type sprinkler system; and
(2) if the building is a multiple dwelling, the sprinkler system or systems shall be monitored for both supervisory and alarm conditions that result in notification of the fire department.
c. A building, all or a portion of which is of Type V construction, and equipped with an automatic sprinkler system installed in accordance with NFPA 13R, which results in the omission of sprinklers from concealed combustible spaces where sprinklers are required under NFPA 13:
(1) shall not exceed two stories measured from the grade plane; and
(2) shall not exceed a per-story floor area of 10,000 square feet, except as provided in subsection d. of this section.
d. Square footage beyond that authorized under subsection c. of this section may be permitted by constructing a minimum two-hour masonry or concrete fire wall between each attached building.
2. The Commissioner of Community Affairs shall take whatever administrative actions as are necessary to correct code adoptions to conform them with section 1 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill). Whenever the commissioner adopts a code or subcode pursuant to section 5 of P.L.1975, c.217 (C.52:27D-123), the commissioner shall modify the adoption to conform it with the provisions of section 1 of P.L. , c. (C. ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).
3. This act shall take effect immediately.
This bill would implement recommendations set forth in reports of the Code Advisory Council and an ad hoc committee formed by the Fire Safety Commission to review fire safety issues in multiple dwelling structures of lightweight wood frame construction. On January 21, 2015, a large uncontrolled fire occurred 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.
The reports identified a pattern of costly, catastrophic fires occurring in buildings of this type of construction, and determined that code provisions which allow for large buildings of Type V construction to be equipped with NFPA 13R residential sprinkler systems need to be changed. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes standards dealing with the installation of sprinklers in buildings, which standards have been incorporated by reference into the State construction code. NFPA 13 is the overarching standard for sprinkler system protection. NFPA 13R permits sprinklers to be omitted from certain areas where they are required under NFPA 13.
The bill imposes limits on the size of buildings that may be built with Type V construction and which utilize NFPA 13R sprinkler systems. The bill amends provisions of the State construction code that allow for the construction of buildings on top of structures such as parking garages, which provisions effectively allow the buildings to be built higher than otherwise allowed.
According to the Code Advisory Council of the Fire Safety Commission, as the height of a building increases and access to the building decreases, the ability of a fire department to rescue trapped occupants or to effectively apply firefighting resources is greatly diminished. In the case of the January 2015 Edgewater fire, firefighters were forced to use a ground ladder to rescue other trapped firefighters and occupants from a balcony on the rear face of the building after rapid fire spread cut off their path of escape within the building. The rear of the building had no apparatus access. Had the trapped individuals been located another floor above, they would have been out of reach of ground ladders.
The Code Advisory Council report on lightweight construction indicates that firefighters view the code provisions allowing building heights to be calculated from the top of structures like parking garages, often referred to as “pedestals,” as physically elevating fire problems and making firefighting efforts even more dangerous and difficult.
Other recommendations set forth in the reports, which would be implemented by adoption of this bill, modify the requirements for installing residential sprinkler systems in buildings comprised, in whole or in part, of lightweight wood frame construction in order to enhance life safety.
The bill balances fire safety concerns with other policy considerations by affording developers an opportunity to increase the floor area of developments without increasing the height of buildings. The ad hoc committee report specifically states that, in arriving at its recommendations, the committee balanced fire safety concerns with other policy concerns, including the State’s economy and the need to produce affordable housing.