NJ likely to be first in nation to require high-rise sprinkler retrofits

Thursday, September 27, 2007

SAYREVILLE, N.J.--Fire sprinkler contractors and other fire officials here on Sept. 19 rallied behind a proposed regulation that would require all high-rise buildings in this state to be retrofitted with fire sprinklers.
If the regulation is adopted, as expected, after a 60-day comment period, which began Sept.17, New Jersey will become the first state in the country with a statewide sprinkler requirement of this type.
"There are high-rise retrofit regulations in other cities, but there aren't any statewide regulations like this anywhere else in the nation," said Kent Mezaros. Mezaros owns a sprinkler company, Quick Response Fire Protection, as well as QRFP Special Services, a fire alarm installation, inspection and maintenance company; both are located in Manalapan, NJ. He is the chairman of the New Jersey chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association and also serves on the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board.
Cities, such as Philadelphia, that have retrofit regulations, typically adopted them in response to tragic fires. The state of New Jersey, he said, "tends to be more proactive, rather than reactive, not only with fire sprinkler regulations, but also with fire protection and prevention programs."
On Sept. 19, Mezaros joined other fire officials at a press conference in support of the regulation. To become part of the fire code, the regulation will need to be signed by the commissioner of DCA.
Since 1989, all N.J. high-rise buildings have been required to be sprinklered. The new regulation would affect the roughly 400 high-rise buildings (300 residential and 100 commercial) constructed before 1989 that have not been sprinklered. The cost, according to a study commissioned by DCA, is $500 million.
Not everyone favors the regulation, however. Joel Ellis, an attorney representing a number of high-rise condominium and co-ops, said his clients would like to see "more specifics about the economic impact of the regulation." He also said he expects to submit "on behalf of his clients, appropriate comment to the state."
Vinny Fichera, executive director of the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board said he invites any group that has further questions about the cost of sprinklers to contact his group. He noted that building owners will have four years to retrofit buildings. He said he's sympathetic to the cost burden, but that there "are ways to mitigate costs, stretch out the cost and do things in a way that is efficient and makes the costs manageable." He's confident the regulation will be adopted. "It's something they've been talking about for 20 years. ... unsprinklered high rise buildings present a significant life safety threat to the public and the fire service. The time to act is now."