NJ Governor doesn't sign sprinkler bill
Photo credit: ©istockphoto.com/Feverpitched


New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie made national headlines when it was reported by major news organizations that a member of his administration allegedly created a major traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. because the town’s mayor didn’t endorse Christie during the last governor’s election.

Having driven over the George Washington Bridge many times during rush hour, I can attest that the traffic already is bad without adding unnecessary lane closures.

Since I no longer live in New Jersey, I read about the trials and tribulations of Christie and have no idea whether he knew about it or not. Christie sounded a lot like other politicians in denial. I did notice that he claimed he cares about the people and wouldn’t do anything to harm them. Those are my words interpreting his long press conference.

During the same week that the bridge fiasco erupted (the same week Christie was re-inaugurated), he was presented with a simple legislative bill. All this bill required was his signature. Nothing more, just a signature to finalize what the state’s legislature approved by an overwhelming majority. This was the residential fire sprinkler bill which would require residential fire sprinklers in all newly constructed one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses.

The bill was spearheaded by the fire service and the N.J. Fire Sprinkler Coalition. They worked for a lot of years convincing everyone in the state of the need to protect all residential buildings with fire sprinklers. The fire service has experienced too many fire deaths that could have been prevented. Each fire death impacts firefighters.

I only experienced one fire death as a volunteer fireman. It tore me apart inside. You believe you are there to protect people and when you can’t, you have a sense of failure. It always stays with you.

Another experience that has never left me was the death of two people in a house fire a mile from my home. Two members of my community perished in a small fire that would have easily been controlled by a residential sprinkler system.


Sensible solution

In New Jersey, the bill makes a lot of sense. Many large homes are already required by the building code to be sprinklered. When the McMansions were rebuilt on the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy, many were sprinklered simply because of their size. Many developers in New Jersey are sprinklering townhouses because it is cheaper to build a sprinklered townhouse vs. a nonsprinklered townhouse. The design incentives more than cover the cost of a residential sprinkler system.

Previously, the committee that reviews the building and residential codes for statewide adoption recommended requiring sprinklers in all one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses. The committee went along with the ICC International Residential Code as it is published. All that was required for the committee’s recommendation was the governor’s signature. Christie didn’t sign it and sent the recommendation back to have the sprinkler requirements removed.

When I spoke to some of my friends and colleagues in New Jersey, they said it really doesn’t matter what the state legislature does. As long as Christie is in office, there won’t be residential sprinklers in the state. Sure enough, Christie did not affix his signature to the residential sprinkler bill. He merely stuck the legislation in his pocket, or what is known as a “pocket veto.” By doing nothing, the bill does not become law.

Since the governor doesn’t have to say why he didn’t sign the legislation, one can only speculate. Does he care about fire deaths in New Jersey? I don’t know. Does he even know that people die every year in his state from residential fires? I don’t know. Maybe his administration is not keeping him informed. That could be the problem. If Christie knew that there were fire deaths and residential fire sprinklers would prevent these fire deaths, I am sure he’d care enough about the citizens to protect them.

As it currently stands, only wealthy people building large homes in New Jersey are getting sprinkler protection in single-family dwellings. The others receiving protection are those living in high-rise buildings and newer apartment buildings. All of these buildings are protected with fire sprinkler systems, as required by the building code. Interestingly, multifamily builders and high-rise builders strongly support the installation of fire sprinklers. They can’t imagine building these structures without sprinklers.


Smart designers

Even many owners of new townhouses are being protected by residential sprinkler systems, but, not all townhouses. The more proactive developers are sprinklering their townhouses and the law would have required all of them to do it.

If you build a new normal size home in New Jersey, you won’t receive any sprinkler protection. These citizens will not receive the same protection that others have in the state and that seems blatantly unfair. I always look for a governor to protect everyone equally – not just a select few.

Yes, I know that the homebuilders don’t want sprinklers required. But would Christie sacrifice the lives of New Jersey citizens because a few campaign donors don’t want to install sprinklers? I can’t imagine Christie doing that, especially since he may run for higher office. That makes absolutely no sense.

For whatever reason, Christie, for the second time, prevented residential sprinklers from becoming required in the code in New Jersey. As one of my colleagues said, you need to wait until Christie isn’t governor before sprinklers are mandated for all residential buildings in New Jersey. That is a shame. The citizens came so close to being protected for the future.

With many of my family members still living in the great state of New Jersey, I was hoping for a change of heart from Christie. But, in the same week it was reported that someone in his administration made a bad politically-driven decision about a bridge, Christie also made a bad political decision by not signing the residential sprinkler legislation.

I only hope the good citizens of New Jersey continue to work for residential sprinklers. Perhaps the governor may have a change of heart. Politicians have been known to change their minds, especially if he or she learns that the legislation truly provides outstanding protection for the citizens with minimal cost impact.

We need to stop losing 3,000 people to fire deaths each year in this country. I always wonder if one of those fire deaths could have been the next Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs.

We’ll never know.


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