Last month, two multi-family residential buildings 100 miles away from each other caught fire just days apart, resulting in the deaths of nearly 30 people.
On Jan. 5, a three-story brick duplex in Philadelphia caught fire killing 12 people, eight of which were children. Officials are investigating the cause, believed to be a 5-year-old playing with a lighter set a Christmas tree on fire. Then, on Jan. 9, a malfunctioning space heater sparked a fire that filled a 19-story apartment building with smoke killing 17 people, including eight children, in the Bronx, New York. Investigators say the fire didn’t spread far, only charring the initial unit and adjacent hallway; however, the door to the apartment and a door to the stairwell had been left open, letting smoke spread quickly throughout the building.
These tragedies are among the deadliest U.S. home fires in nearly 40 years, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The Philadelphia fire is now tied for the sixth most-deadliest home fire, while the Bronx high-rise apartment building fire ranks second in fatalities since 1980, NFPA notes.
I’m both bewildered and dismayed that not just one, but two very deadly fires can happen in this day and age — it’s 2022! The products and technology exist to prevent massive loss of life.
Yes, it’s true that research has shown that the open-concept floor plans and synthetic building materials and furnishings cause residential fires to burn much faster and hotter than they ever did before. Which is all the more reason for every building — every structure — to meet the most up-to-date requirements relating to fire safety. These two incidents both occurred in federally subsidized affordable housing and truly underscore the safety risks posed by aging buildings, which may not be required to meet some aspects of the latest fire codes. This clearly needs to change.
There are many things beyond our control, but preventing major losses of life due to structure fires is not one of them. These terrible events serve as a reminder about how important it is to ensure every building meets the requirements stated in the latest versions of building and fire codes. It’s just common sense. The real tragedy is that it takes a tragic event like this to incite positive change for the future.
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