The PCA Calls for Stronger Building Codes to Limit Fire Damage
Louise Fordham | World Cement
February 24, 2015
The Portland Cement Association (PCA) has expressed its support for stronger building codes following a fire at the Avalon at Edgewater complex in New Jersey last month, which displaced almost 1000 residents. The fire spread rapidly through the building due to the wood-frame ‘truss construction’ used. The PCA has underlined that stricter building codes can help to reduce damage during fires and also save lives. With this in mind, the association has applauded New Jersey Assemblyman, Scott Rumana, for moving ahead with the re-evaluation of building codes for multi-family constructions. The proposed legislation would require the evaluation of the appropriateness of light-frame construction for multi-family buildings and it would impose a moratorium on light-frame construction until a determination and recommendations are adopted.
“With concrete and masonry construction, as well as appropriate sprinkler application, most fires would not have the potential to spread this rapidly,” says Patrick W. Reardon Jr., Executive Director of the PCA Northeast region. “While developers might be tempted to save on initial costs by utilising cheaper building construction, non-combustible materials such as concrete, masonry or steel minimize the damage that could be caused in an emergency and increase building costs only marginally.”
According to a Fire Safety Construction Advisory Council (FSCAC) study, the cost difference of switching to a two-hour non-combustible material ranges from 3% more to 3% less. Fire safety is a key component of all building codes, including New Jersey’s, which is modelled after the International Building Code. The PCA notes, however, that the code permits numerous reductions in structural fire protection wherever sprinklers are present. Reardon explains that recent passive fire protection provisions in new construction reduce the use of non-combustible materials, such as concrete, in favour of installing sprinklers. “The concrete construction industries have long advocated for balanced design for property protection and life safety. This combines active systems, such as fire detection and suppression (sprinklers), with passive containment like concrete masonry and steel and provides an increased level of safety.”
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