March was a rough month for fires in buildings under construction, wreaking millions of dollars in damage and undoubtedly causing major headaches for public officials. Thankfully, no one was killed or seriously hurt in these fires, but their toll can be added to the over 6,310 fires in buildings either under construction, demolition, or major renovation between 2010 and 2014, which caused 9 deaths and $280 million in direct property damage. Add to that at least $210 million in losses—and 2 fatalities--from construction site fires in 2017 and 2018, and it’s clear that a lot of construction sites have neglected fire safety.
Last month, fires included:
- A March 20th fire in Connecticut’s Silver Sands State Park inflicted serious damage to a new visitors’ center that was nearing completion. As quoted in the CT Post, Milford Fire Battalion Chief Anthony Fabrizi observed that “only a ramp heading to the three buildings and pilings [were] the only things that could be saved from the wreck.” State officials have worked since 2012 to secure public backing and funding for this $9.1 million improvement. The project, originally slated to open to visitors by Memorial Day, is now delayed indefinitely.
- On March 5th, a fire tore through part of the Hieronymous Square development under construction in Iowa City. The $41 million condo and hotel development was scheduled to open later this year. It had been several years in the making, with the developers winning $8 million in Tax Increment Financing from the City Council to revitalize a long vacant lot in the city’s downtown, spur economic development, and add affordable housing units. City fire officials report that the fire was caused by the improper storage of combustible materials near a radiant heater. Initial estimates to the large hotel/condo development project were cited at $1 million. Now that the damaged portion of the construction must be removed and rebuilt, the project’s timeline is uncertain.
- On March 9th, firefighters in Boston fought a fire on the 25th floor of a high-rise building under construction. Though the fire was extinguished quickly by firefighters, it still roiled downtown traffic with street closures.
To help prevent these fires from happening, local officials must insist fire safety is a high priority for construction site owners, managers, and workers. To do this, they can take three critical steps:
- Require the use of NFPA 241 Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition through the fire code. Make sure your community enforces the most recent one to keep up to date as construction practices change;
- Follow the standard and make sure your community requires written fire prevention plans as part of the construction permit process; and
- Talk to your community’s fire officials to go beyond the minimum requirements—consider extra security, a higher trained workforce, and more fire suppression and detection measures.
To raise awareness of this issue and offer steps policymakers should take to reduce risk in their communities, the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute developed this policy brief. Download it today to learn more. Find additional information and resources on the Policy Institute’s webpage.