Fatal fire in Bayonne and the need for updated fire sprinkler laws

Dear Editor:
In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 11, a devastating four-alarm fire tore through a multi-family home on East 21st Street in Bayonne, claiming the lives of an elderly and disabled husband and wife, hospitalizing three, and displacing eight families. The tragedy may have been worse if it weren’t for the firefighter’s valiant efforts to get everyone out, which included pulling five unconscious people from the burning building.
Though we should all be grateful for the heroic efforts of the Bayonne Fire Department and the rest of the first responders, I can’t help but think what may have happened had the building been better equipped to handle this tragedy. Residents have come to rely on smoke alarms to protect them during a fire but smoke alarms, while an important tool in protecting families from fire, are reactive and can only alert people to fire while doing nothing to proactively protect them from danger. Residential fire sprinklers proactively contain and extinguish fires sometimes quicker than it takes the fire department to arrive on the scene.
The New Jersey Assembly and Senate passed bill A-1698, the New Home Fire Safety Act. The Bill would have required new one and two-story homes to be built with residential fire sprinklers. Governor Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, tasking the Department of Community Affairs with establishing whether the “marginal benefits” of a residential sprinkler system in town-homes would be worth the cost and completely removing the one and two-family home from the bill. It is unclear whether this home, if built today, would be protected based on the Governor’s veto, despite the fact that four families were living the home. Fire sprinkler systems are not just an investment by new home builders or buyer, they are a life-safety device that can protect future generations of residents from the ravages of fire.

David Kurasz
Executive Director
New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board

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