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Another Day, Another Wood-Framed Apartment Fire

Waterbury, Connecticut, Blaze Highlights Vulnerable Construction Methods.

On Wednesday, May 17, 2017, days after a wood-framed retail-apartment complex under construction in Oakland, Calif., was destroyed for the second time in a year, five firefighters were injured in a fire that destroyed four three-story multi-family homes in Waterbury, Conn., exemplifying the danger with wood-framed residential buildings.


The fire, which displaced 20 families, – 32 people in all – comes at a time of intense scrutiny for the construction materials industry and the building codes that permit the use of vulnerable methods.


This year, there have been a number of spectacular lightweight, wood-framed apartment fires – most notably in Oakland, Calif.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Arlington, Va.; College Park, Md.; Overland Park, Kan.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Maplewood, N.J. There have been dozens over the last few years.


“As long as the building codes that are in place permit the prioritizing of negligible cost-savings over the safety and security of residents, more and more of these fires are going to occur,” says Kevin Lawlor, a spokesperson for Build With Strength, a coalition of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association and comprised of fire service professionals, engineers, architects and industry experts. “Fortunately, the firefighters injured in Wednesday’s blaze are expected to make a full recovery. However, next time, we may not be so lucky. The time to update these codes is now.”


Cities and towns like New York City, N.Y.; Chicago, Ill.; Maitland, Fla.; Sandy Springs and Tucker, Ga, have taken proactive steps to preemptively ban the use of combustible materials, such as wood, in this type of construction.


“At the end of the day, 32 people are now without a home,” continues Lawlor. “We must not lose sight of the fact that these are real people losing a lifetime of belongings. There has to be a certain point where the well-being of residents trumps the desires of developers to make a quick buck.”

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