Edgewater NJ Fire
Edgewater NJ Fire

Seven months after a runaway apartment-building fire made national headlines, New Jersey firefighters held a demonstration on Sunday at the site of the destroyed building in Edgewater, New Jersey. "Fire officials from across New Jersey on Sunday, were outside of the remains of the Avalon at Edgewater complex." CBS New York reported (see: "NJ Firefighters Say Better Building Codes Could Prevent Catastrophic Blazes," by Steve Langford). "They demanded an end to what they call toothpick towers made of lightweight wood."

The North Jersey Record covers the story here (see: "Fire officials' calls to toughen code going unheard; lack of action after Avalon disaster protested," by Lin Tat and Minjae Park). "The firefighters associations are calling for changes to the state Uniform Construction Code to limit wood-frame construction to three floors and 20,000 square feet per floor, and to require more sprinklers, including in attic spaces, and masonry fire walls between buildings," the paper reported. "Represented at the Sunday news conference were the Bergen County Fire Chiefs Association, the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, the New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs Association, the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association, the New Jersey Fire Prevention and Protection Association and the Edgewater Fire Department."

The New Jersey legislature is considering several bills that would toughen fire-resistance requirements, the Record reported. At issue in New Jersey is the question of whether stick-frame construction — what firefighters are calling "lightweight wood construction" — should be allowed in multifamily dwellings at all. Two identical bills under consideration in the state Assembly and the Senate would impose a two-year moratorium on permitting and building of stick-framed apartments or condominiums while officials study the question. Another bill before the state Senate would require three-hour fire ratings in multifamily party walls and noncombustible construction in any building higher than three stories. Another bill in the Assembly would prohibit stick-framed multifamily buildings in municipalities with population density greater than 5,000 people per square mile.

AvalonBay, the developer who owned the burned-down Edgewater project, has told local authorities that it is willing to consider above-code fire protection measures when it rebuilds the structure. But current law and code would allow the destroyed building to be replaced just as it was — a fact that has firefighters ticked off. And firefighters are unwilling to wait patiently as the legislature ponders the options. Said former fire chief Glenn Corbett: “This is not something that needs to be studied to death. It’s pretty clear what the problem is and what the solution is. It’s just that they don’t have the political willpower in Trenton to change it.”