‘Smoke detectors and even fire alarms are not enough’: Queens councilman’s bill would require sprinklers for residential buildings

Barry Grodenchik Fire Safety Rally
Photo courtesy of Grodenchik’s office

As the fire death toll in New York grows, a Queens lawmaker announced legislation that would improve residents’ safety, especially those living in large residential properties.

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, on the steps of City Hall, Councilman Barry Grodenchik proposed 1146-A, which requires residential buildings over 40 feet high to install sprinklers by 2029. It aims to protect residents as Local Law 26 of 2004 did for workers in high-rise office buildings.

New York City fire fatalities rose from 43 in 2017 to 88 in 2018, according to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). So far, there have been 56 fire-related deaths in 2019. The Bureau of Fire Investigation’s annual report for 2018 showed that there were 3,021 accidental fires and 1,001 fire injuries in New York City last year.

In 2018, the Bureau of Fire Investigation reported 640 accidental fires in Queens, with 562 of those occuring in occupied buildings.

The report also listed the top causes of accidental fires which include: electrical devices (920); smoking (733); open flames (336); hot objects (316); and cooking carelessness (280).

“Tragically, many of the victims of fire fatalities are children,” said Grodenchik. “Smoke detectors and even fire alarms are not enough. We need sprinkler systems to save lives.”

Others who joined Grodenchik at City Hall included Councilman Robert E. Cornegy Jr., the bill’s co-sponsor, along with Councilman Carlos Menchaca, fire safety advocates and community leaders.

“Fires, especially those that break out hundreds or thousands of feet above street level, require more than passive solutions like smoke detectors and fireproof construction,” said Cornegy. “Sprinkler systems represent an active solution to life-endangering fires in large residential buildings. It is time we bring the law up to date to protect New York citizens.”

In 2018, six people, including four children, died after a fire ripped through an apartment building in Harlem. That same year, a fire in a Bronx apartment building claimed the lives of 12 individuals — seven adults and five children.

A study conducted by the University of Nevada’s College of Urban Affairs showed that smoke detectors are not enough to save lives or prevent property damage.

“Studies have shown that properly installed and maintained fire sprinklers are effective at controlling a fire 96 percent of the time,” said Tony Saporito of the New York Fire Sprinkler Council, a division of the Mechanical Contractors Association of New York. “By simply requiring that owners of older multi-family homes install and maintain the same fire sprinkler systems that keep office workers and residents of newer buildings safe today, Intro 1146-A will save lives.”

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