Rash of fire fatalities spurs state scrutiny of combustible building materials

Sources: National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Silver Spring, Md.; CP staff

Responding to the fire related deaths of nine residents in January, Maryland Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway (Baltimore City) has introduced a bill covering low- to mid-rise residential developments throughout the state: SB 722, Public Safety – Light Frame Combustible Construction – Requirements.

“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 at a late-February committee hearing. “SB 722 goes a long way toward addressing the issues these changes create for the fire service and first responders, and I do not think we can afford to wait.”

“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.

Sen. Conway’s bill joins resilient building efforts of communities throughout the country paralleling an August 2016 Sandy Springs (Ga.) City Council ordinance amending the local code to prohibit combustible material use in load-bearing elements of three-story or taller buildings. “Building codes are minimum requirements, not the highest performing systems or buildings,” notes NRMCA Vice President for Sustainability, Codes and Standards Tien Peng. “Code minimums are simply not adequate to ensure resident comfort, security or safe harbor from catastrophes. If the state of Maryland doesn’t insist on more fire safe ‘code-plus’ design, minimum is most likely what you will get.”


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