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Fire fatalities invite lawmaker scrutiny of combustible building materials

Maryland General Assembly members are responding to the fire-related deaths of 15 residents since late last year with legislation aimed at tightening building codes statewide.

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Concurrent with the Maryland General Assembly actions, Build with Strength supporters have launched print, radio and online ads calling on legislators to pass SB 722 and HB 1311, while also raising awareness about the dangers of wood-frame construction.

Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway (Baltimore City) introduced SB 722, Public Safety – Light Frame Combustible Construction – Requirements, a bill covering low- to mid-rise residential developments.

“Code changes that have gone into effect in Maryland over the last eight years allowing the use of combustible framing materials in taller and larger buildings contain unparalleled levels of risk,” Hagerstown (Md.) Fire Chief Steve Lohr told Sen. Conway and colleagues during a committee hearing. “SB 722 goes a long way toward addressing the issues these changes create for the fire service and first responders.”

“SB 722 is a definite move in the right direction to improve Maryland’s fire safety levels, especially for the residential occupancies covered by this legislation,” added fire protection engineer and former Macon-Bibb County (Ga.) Fire Marshal Stephen Skalko, who also testified at the hearing.

Separately, the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee heard testimony on Delegate Cory McCray’s (Baltimore City) HB 1311, an SB 722 companion of the same title. “It’s time for the Maryland lawmaking community to come together to pass safer building codes,” said Kevin Lawlor, who was scheduled to testify at the hearing on behalf of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association-led Build with Strength coalition. “The responsibility is on the legislature to prevent architects and developers from putting the public’s welfare at risk by using vulnerable construction materials and techniques all for the sake of their bottom lines.”