Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on September 1, 2017.

'24/7 If Necessary'

Taking steps to protect buildings under construction against arson

BY ANGELO VERZONI

IN JULY, A FIRE RAZED a massive apartment complex under construction in Waltham, Massachusetts, about 10 miles west of Boston. Five separate apartment buildings containing more than 260 units were nearing completion when they were leveled by the blaze. Damage was estimated at $110 million. In August, investigators determined the fire had been intentionally set, news that was shared publicly by Massachusetts Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey (pictured above.)

A couple of weeks before the Waltham blaze, a fire destroyed a building under construction in Oakland, California. It was the fifth fire the city had seen in buildings under construction in recent years. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the first four were all deemed arson, and early news reports suggested the most recent blaze was “suspicious.”

Arson is a chief concern for the fire service and other stakeholders when it comes to fires in buildings under construction, as well as for fires in buildings being renovated or demolished. In fact, according to a recent NFPA report, “Fires in Structures Under Construction, Undergoing Major Renovation, or Being Demolished,” the lion’s share of fires in buildings being demolished from 2010 to 2014 were caused by arson—42 percent, on average. For fires in both buildings under construction and being renovated, the percentage of those that were intentional was significantly smaller, at 13 percent.

A lack of fire protection systems like sprinklers and firewalls, along with an abundance of potential fuel sources, can make an arsonist’s job quite easy at construction sites. News reports suggest the motives for torching a building under construction can be political—namely, frustration over gentrification, a phenomenon that by some accounts has increased in the United States since 2000.

To address the concern, NFPA 241, Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, includes a section on keeping construction sites safe from arson. It outlines measures to take such as hiring guards, putting up fences, and securing entrances. “Twenty-four-seven if necessary,” added Allan Fraser, senior building code specialist at NFPA and the staff liaison to NFPA 241.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Getty Images