New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivered a blow to safety advocates on May 7 by "conditionally vetoing" a bill that would have sprinklered new, one- and two-family homes. Christie vetoed a similar bill last legislative session following its passage in the state Assembly and Senate, but this time has requested a closer look at the benefits of sprinklering the state's new townhomes.
Citing residents' "struggles" to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, Christie also noted in his veto message that the bill would "further burden New Jerseyans" by "increasing the upfront cost of every new freestanding home by thousands of dollars." Christie added that the bill should be amended so that the state's Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which has the ability to modify the building code, can analyze the appropriateness of sprinklering new townhomes, which he considers having greater fire risks since these dwellings are attached. "If, after comparing the marginal cost of such devices with their marginal benefits, the DCA determines that sprinklers in such structures are warranted, then DCA should amend the Uniform Construction Code as it deems appropriate," stated Christie.
This decision, however, does little to protect the state from future fire tragedies, said New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who sponsored the bill and has constantly noted that sprinkler installation is a small fraction of a home's overall cost. The veto, he told NJ.com, "is a step backwards for fire safety" and "a slap in the face to a community of public safety officials who have endorsed, supported, and fought for this legislation."
NFPA joined the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Coalition this week during a news conference rallying for the bill. "Some believe that residential sprinklers should be a matter of consumer choice," said NFPA Regional Director John Caufield at the event. "Are we suggesting that of all the possible safety provisions in the model codes and the New Jersey codes, sprinklers are the one safety issue best left up to the consumer? Government has long recognized its responsibility to protect its citizens from known safety hazards and has mandated any number of important safety provision. Similarly, I suggest that it is the responsibility of government to protect its citizens from the known risks of fire, especially when there is a clear path to significantly reducing that risk."
NFPA President Jim Pauley also sent Christie a letter urging the governor to sign the bill, and the New Jersey Coalition amassed close to 2,000 signatures via an online petition supporting the legislation.
NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative team sends a big "thank you" to Wisniewski and the New Jersey advocates for their unrelenting stance on fire safety. To our sprinkler advocates there and across North America: keep fighting the good fight, and use our free resources to help support your cause.