It’s happening more and more in New Jersey. A building catches fire and by the time firefighters arrive, the structure is either completely engulfed in flames or it's already burnt to the ground.

Now, efforts are moving forward to address the root cause of the problem.

Legislation has been introduced in the state Senate and Assembly that would change several construction codes and require more steel, concrete and fire-resistant wood be used instead of just lightweight wood and other combustible materials when larger apartment buildings and structures are constructed.

Experts agree this would significantly slow the spread of any fire.

Ed Donnelly, the president of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, said this is really an issue of common sense.

“This is going to give better protection to the residents of New Jersey by building these structures in a more sound way and it’s also going to give our firefighters a fighting chance when we respond to these structures," he said.

He explained when buildings made of lightweight wood and pre-fabricated material catch fire, flames race through the entire structure and the building will rapidly collapse.

“Most of the material is glued together, so the old hammer and nails is not used anymore, and under extreme fire conditions that material deteriorates and collapses almost immediately," Donnelly said.

Kevin Lawlor, a spokesman for the Build with Strength Coalition — an organization made up of construction unions, fire service personnel, insurance groups, community groups and elected officials — said when developers build multi-family dwellings they’re not focused on the integrity of the structure.

“The developer mindset is to get 'em up, and get 'em up quickly, and the sooner that you can have people in a building paying a mortgage or paying fees, rents or whatever the case may be, the sooner you can start making a profit on your investment.”

He said over the past decade there have been dozens of big fires where entire complexes have been destroyed because the material used to construct the buildings was so combustible.

“There’s the cost municipalities had to pay to send all their fire trucks and first responders. There’s the cost that surrounding businesses had to pay being shut down because of smoke damage, and insurance costs.”

He pointed out many new buildings look nice and sturdy from the outside but looks can be deceiving.

“They’re made out of stick wood framing and when those things start to light up, it’s a lumberyard on steroids, and there becomes a much larger fire than had started in one particular unit," he said.

The legislation also calls for increasing sprinkler protection throughout new multi-family buildings.


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