NY City Fire Sprinkler Industry Lauds Near-Record Low Number of Fire Fatalities

Washington, D.C. – (RealEstateRama) — The Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) and Steamfitters Local 638 members, who install the fire suppression systems that have helped make New York City the safest big city in America, laud the near-record low in fire fatalities last year. In 2015, the FDNY responded to a record 1.7 million calls, yet reported just 59 fire fatalities—the second lowest number since the city began record keeping a century ago. That represents a 17% decline from the 71 fire deaths in 2014 and the lowest number since the city recorded its lowest-ever total, 58 fire deaths in 2012.

Sprinkler Laws Lead to Decline in NYC Fire Fatalities Graph

“The number one way we measure success in the FDNY is in lives saved, and by that measure we just experienced one of the most successful years ever in our 150-year history,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro in a press release.

“In 2015, New York City recorded the second lowest number of fire fatalities in the past century. While this is significant, we believe that number can always go lower. Last year the New York Fire Sprinkler Council was created to further educate New Yorkers on how ever-evolving fire suppression technology protects lives and property. The Council’s fire sprinkler experts are committed to demonstrating the importance of installing, inspecting, testing and maintaining these life-saving systems,” said Anthony Saporito, Executive Vice President of Mechanical Contractors Association of New York.

According to the FDNY, over 80% of fire deaths in 2015 occurred in private homes or apartments without a working smoke alarm. Nearly half of all fatal fires last year were caused by careless smoking or accidental fires, resulting from wiring problems and improper use of extension cords, appliances and portable heaters.

“The data clearly shows that fire fatalities can be drastically reduced when building owners adhere to fire safety laws,” said Patrick Dolan, Steamfitters Local 638 President. “Tenants are outfitting their homes and apartments with modern furnishings that most often are manufactured from petroleum-based synthetics, which burn hotter, more toxic and up to 800% faster than traditional materials, according to Underwriters Laboratories. That means building owners must be even more vigilant about following all laws and taking safety measures to protect their tenants and their property.”

The City of New York’s significant reduction in fire fatalities in recent decades can be directly traced back to the passage of Local Law 5 of 1973, which required existing high-rise office buildings more than 100 feet tall to be equipped with stair pressurization and compartmentalization or a sprinkler system. The landmark legislation was passed after two fatal office building fires killed five people and injured dozens in 1970. That year there were 310 fire fatalities, the highest number on record. Local Law 5 was a key first step that has led to a dramatic 80% reduction in fire fatalities since 1973, when New York City recorded 275 fire deaths.

The city’s sharpest one-year drop in fire deaths, from 296 in 1990 to 187 in 1991, coincided with the implementation of Local Law 55 of 1989, which required individuals installing and modifying fire sprinkler systems to be licensed by the City of New York. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), wet-pipe sprinklers reduce fire deaths by 82% and property damage by 68%.

“New York City has long been at the forefront of building safety by adopting effective fire safety laws and standards. Across the nation, cities look to New York for guidance on implementing similar innovative fire safety and fire suppression laws. I’m proud of our track record in enhancing fire safety standards in this city and ensuring the commercial and residential buildings we build and maintain meet the highest safety standards in the country,” said Robert Bartels, Jr., Steamfitters Local 638 Business Agent at Large.

MCA and Steamfitters Local 638 have historically worked with the New York City Council to adopt some of the city’s most critical fire safety legislation, working in tandem with the evolving needs of the world’s largest and busiest fire department.

SUMMARY OF NEW YORK CITY SPRINKLER LAWS

Local Law 5 of 1973 (LL 5/73) – Required existing high-rise office buildings 100 feet or more in height to be equipped with a sprinkler system, or, in lieu of a sprinkler system, compartmentation with stair pressurization. For sprinkler system installations, sprinkler protection was permitted to be omitted from certain areas in accordance with departmental directives and interpretations.

Local Law 41 of 1978 – Following a fire at the Blue Angel nightclub, this law strengthened sprinkler provisions for places of public assembly and a requirement that sprinklers be retroactively installed in existing nightclubs.

Local Law 16 of 1984 (LL 16/84) – Amended the building code to require all new office buildings over 75 feet in height to be protected throughout by an automatic sprinkler system, and did not provide the same exemptions permitted for LL 5/73 compliance. LL 16/84 did not retroactively mandate sprinklers for existing buildings.

Local Law 55 of 1989 – Required individuals installing and modifying fire sprinkler systems to be licensed by the City of New York. This law coincides with the city’s sharpest one-year drop in fire deaths (from 296 in 1990 to 187 in 1991), with a nearly continuous drop in fire fatalities ever since.

Local Law 10 of 1999 – New York City Local Law 10 was enacted in March of 1999, mandating that all newly constructed multifamily dwellings with 3 or more units must be fully protected by fire sprinklers. For existing buildings, sprinklers have to be installed: as renovations, or as alterations when the costs of renovations or alterations total more than 50 percent of the value of the building (this was a result of a fire on December 23, 1998 at 124 W 60th Street – 4 deaths – aka the Macaulay Culkin Fire). The law also established stricter inspection and maintenance standards (this was a result of a fire on December 18, 1998 – 3 firefighter deaths).

Local Law 26 of 2002 – Following the tragic death of 3 firefighters on Father’s Day 2001, this law was enacted to require automatic fire sprinklers in mercantile occupancies which contain below grade storage of flammable or combustible mixtures.

Local Law 26 of 2004 – Was enacted after the 2003 World Trade Center Building Code Task Force found that compartmentation and smoke alarms do not provide the same level of fire protection as a full system of automatic sprinklers and recommended automatic sprinkler protection throughout all high-rise office buildings. As a result, Local Law 26 of 2004 (LL 26/04) amended Building Code sections 27-228.5 and 27-929.1 to retroactively require sprinkler protection for existing office buildings measuring 100 feet or more in height by July 1, 2019. Per section 27-929.1(a)(3), these requirements do not apply to a building in existence on October 22, 2004 in which a full system of automatic sprinklers was installed or required to be installed pursuant to any other provision of law (i.e. LL5/73 or LL16/84).

About Mechanical Contractors Association of New York, Steamfitters Local 638
The Mechanical Contractors Association of New York, Inc. (MCA) is an organization of the union Mechanical and Fire Sprinkler Contracting industry in New York City and Long Island. The MCA is designed to promote the welfare and development of the heating, piping, air conditioning and fire suppression industry. Since 1885, the MCA has provided a place for contractors to come together and assist each other in identifying emerging technologies, addressing labor issues effectively, and improving business practices.

Steamfitters Local 638 members design, install and maintain critical fire sprinklers, heating and cooling systems, and high pressure steam and water piping in tens of thousands of high-occupancy commercial, retail and residential buildings throughout the New York region.

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