Edgewater NJ Complex Fire

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Edgewater NJ Complex Fire

You probably heard of the fire in Edgewater NJ in January that rapidly demolished an apartment complex there, displacing hundreds of residents. The building’s wood-frame truss construction allowed the fire to spread quickly, and it completely overwhelmed the sprinkler system. There is a trend in the US toward weakening building codes to allow for the use of more wood frame construction in multi-family homes. Concrete Products magazine editor Don Marsh has characterized this trend as the cult of cheap construction. His remarks in a recent issue, we’re in response to that apartment complex fire.

There is little doubt that the proper use of concrete products as a passive protector could have potentially slowed the fire and given the active fire suppressant (sprinklers) more time to do their jobs. While developers might be tempted to save on initial costs by utilizing cheaper building construction, non-combustible materials such as concrete, masonry or steel minimize the damage that could be caused in an emergency and increase building costs only marginally.
Fire protection provisions in some new laws governing new construction reduce the use of non-combustible materials like concrete in favor of installing sprinklers. Concrete products producers and industry sources have been strong advocates for design which balances property protection and the safety of the occupants. This combines active systems, such as fire detection and suppression (sprinklers), with passive containment like concrete, masonry, and steel.

In New Jersey, at least, officials seem to be listening. New Jersey Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40) is calling for re-evaluating the codes of multi-family construction in order to avoid potential disasters. He has proposed legislation that would require the evaluation of the appropriateness of light-frame construction for multi-family dwellings and would impose a moratorium on it until a determination and recommendations are adopted. The developer of the Edgewater complex is reportedly already planning to use concrete fire walls in his next two projects.