Nearly a decade ago, New Jersey witnessed the inherent dangers posed by rapidly spreading fires—the catastrophic 2015 Avalon Apartment fire in Edgewater, which thankfully caused no injuries or deaths. However, the incident still lingers vividly in the minds of the New Jerseyans and it is a poignant reminder of the potential risks associated with fast-moving residential fires. It also serves as a lasting influence on fire safety awareness in the Garden State. To that end, at the end of November, state Sens. Linda R. Greenstein, D-14, and Shirley K. Turner, D-15, jointly introduced legislation that would codify into law fire safety experts’ recommendation that all newly built townhouses be installed with automatic fire sprinkler systems.
The legislation defines “townhouse” as residential homes that are constructed in a group of three or more attached units where each unit extends from foundation to roof and with a yard or public way on at least two sides. The construction permit for a new townhouse would not be declared complete without the installation of an automatic fire sprinkler system, though this requirement would not apply to townhouses constructed before the effective date of the legislation.
The New Jersey state Senate passed S-281 by a vote of 31-1 on Dec. 11, 2023. After swift passage in the Senate, the bill’s fate now rests with the state’s lower house, the New Jersey General Assembly. It must introduce and pass a companion bill before the conclusion of the lame-duck session.
If passed into law, this bill would enhance firefighting capabilities for first responders, protect lives and property, and establish parity in automatic sprinkler system requirements between larger multi-unit buildings and townhouses.
Theophilus W. Alexander joined PIA Northeast as a government & industry affairs specialist for the Government & Industry Affairs Department in 2023. Prior to joining PIA, Theo had served in both houses of the New York State Legislature. Previously, he worked as a legislative analyst for Hon. New York State Sen. Samra G. Brouk, D-55, and he served at the New York State Assembly, as a policy analyst with New York Assembly Program & Counsel. Theo received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.