Fire Code Could Cost University $20 Million

19 July, 1985

Town Topics

Fire Code Could Cost The University $20 Million

By Nancy Freiberg

Statehouse Bureau

A Princeton University official says proposed state fire regulations. which could be approved by the end of August. would have an “enormous impact on the character of the campus” and cost the university some $20 million in alterations.

Under regulations to the state fire code proposed by the state’s Fire Safety Commission. high-occupancy buildings such as schools, apartment complexes. day care centers and libraries would have to be fitted with such mechanisms as sprinkler systems and automatic fire alarms.

If agreed upon by the commission. the proposals could he adopted by the Department of Community Affairs as early as Aug. 26. according to George ,Miller. assistant chief of the state Bureau of Fire Safety.

Under current state law, the changes would have to be implemented by the institutions affected within one year of adoption.

Princeton University spokesman Robert Durkee. who testified before the commission at a public hearing Wednesday said state officials have not considered the effect such regulations would have on older institutions.

“If you are an institution with many old buildings, the cost would be absolutely staggering.” the vice president for public affairs said in a telephone interview Thursday. “We have estimated this would cost us in excess of $20 million and require us to make alterations in almost all of our ISO buildings.”

Mr. Durkee said many of the regulations could also have a “substantial” effect on the appearance of those structures.

“The Firestone Library has open stairwells.” he explained. “We would have to enclose that type of stairwell under the code.”

Many wooden doors on campus that no longer close tightly would have to be refrained under the regulations. Mr. Durkee added.

“A lot of these beautiful old doors that have been safely in place for 30, 40, or 50 years would not he allowed:* he said. The time frame for implementation also has the university up in arms.

“Accomplishing all of these alterations within a year seems really unreasonable.” he said.

Mr. Miller said extensions could he granted to institutions for implementing the regulations, and added that some provisions for historical structures already exist.

“The division has been working on more revisions,” he explained. “But as it stands now I think something would have to he listed with the state or national (historical) register ”

Mr. Miller said cost estimates by those that affected by the proposals may be misleading.

“A lot of people are coming up with very big figures and I don’t know if those figures are accurate at all,” he said.

The university’s figure is based on a survey of each campus building, according to Mr. Durkee. Mr. Durkee also contends the new code would not improve fire safety in campus.

We have a fire safety monitoring system operating 24 hours a day.” he said. “Our response to any indication of fire tends to be very quick.”

Under that system, a security officer monitors electronic fire detectors from a central office around the clock. Security personnel also monitor the buildings for hazardous conditions, he said.

Mr. Durkee also noted that a “very small number of fires” have occurred at the university, and those that have occurred have been “very small.”

In ‘addition, the university has spent $6 million on surety devices over the pasta tree years. A good deal of the money has been •spent on increasing exit times. he said, an alternative to extensive safety devices.

“That is not to say that in an ideal world with unlimited. resources you wouldn’t do both, but this isn’t an ideal world.” he said.

The university official believes the fire commission has overreacted in its response to incidents such as the fire at Great Adventure, in which teenagers were killed in an enclosed fun house.

“I don’t dispute for a minute that there are buildings’ in the state that are not well protected.” he said “But the assumption is that all buildings are like that and should comply with these regulations. There is no flexibility.

“In trying to sweep everybody under one rug, what happens is that people end up there that simply don’t belong.’

Members of the fire commission have a different view.

“Forty percent of communities in New Jerky- did not have a fire code (before 19747).” said Sen. John Caufield (D-Essex), the commission’s chairman. ‘Me new regulations will now provide all municipalities with the protection needed. We’re trying to deal with emergencies before they happen through the use of sprinklers.”

Alterations necessitated by the proposed regulations include installation of various fire suppression systems, fire doors, automatic fire alarms. and improved exits. according. to Mr. Miller.

Although the regulations could be incorporated into the state fire code late next month. he predicted the process will take longer.

The changes must first be agreed to by a codes advisory council, which has a meeting scheduled for July 30.

Once the commission receives input from the advisory council, final recommendations will he submitted to the Department of Community Affairs Commissioner for approval.

Mr. Durkee said he hopes the com mission will cod up making substantial revisions to the proposal that would lead to more public comment.

Comments made by others affected by the proposed regulations at the public hearing Wednesday have led Mr. Durkee to conclude he is not alone in his objections. The New Jersey School Boards Association has estimated alterations to school buildings throughout the state could cost as much as $36 million, and is opposed to the regulations along with AT&T Communications.

“One would have a different feeling about the effort if one were sure that it would result in improved fire safety.” Mr. Durkee said.

That is also the date set for a public hearing on a Uniform Fire Safety Code which man-dates annual inspections of structures that are deemed to have “life hazard uses” and be of particular high risk to the public. Such structures include service stations, hotels, motels, high rise buildings, eating and drinking establishments, theaters and other places where the public congregates.

If adopted, the measure will require the hiring of a part-time fire inspection official, in addition to the building inspector already on Township rolls who makes fire safety inspections on new structures. However, there is a provision for the imposition of fees, which will offset the cost to the Township.

The measure is the result of recently enacted state legislation and Sets an August dead-line for municipalities to adopt the code and thus agree to con-duct municipal inspections. Municipalities that fail to act will have state or county inspections imposed upon them. Mayor Pike termed the measure “a clear case of the very strong fireman’s lobby in the state.”

He was particularly annoyed by the state’s insistence that a municipality can not contract out enforcement of the code but must hire a part time employee. However. Township Administrator Pascale said it might he more “appropriate” for the Township to hire its own inspector but agreed with the mayor that it was the loss of discretion, or choice. that rankled.



25 Years Ago, July 1960

The annual outing of the Princeton Hook and Ladder Co. is held at Squatter’s Grove











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