FEMA Review Of New Jersey Boardwalk Fire Underscores Importance Of Aggressive Code Enforcement

Washington, D.C. – A technical review of a New Jersey boardwalk fire that destroyed three businesses and damaged others – and took 120 firefighters four hours to control – is being released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) . According to the review, most of the boardwalk businesses are closed for half the year and the absence of business owners for long periods of time can impede the prompt resolution of code violations.

“One of the unique aspects of the New Jersey boardwalk fire was the seasonality of the businesses there and the fact many of them remain closed during the off-season. This gives the local fire department only a limited window during which they can inspect and discover code violations, and ensure they’re corrected,” said Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response.

The review, compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), stressed the importance of documenting code violations since New Jersey statutes allow local fire departments to recover the cost of their suppression if a fire can be directly or indirectly linked to code violations.

“The Wildwood Fire Department had implemented an aggressive inspection program in the months prior to the fire and this meant local firefighters were familiar with the general layout of the boardwalk, important to a successful response,” said US Fire Administrator R. David Paulison. “Two vehicles, modified because of previous fires and difficulty with access, also helped in suppression efforts.”

USFA develops reports on selected major fires and emergencies, usually involving multiple deaths or a large loss of property. The objective reviews are intended to uncover significant “lessons learned” or new knowledge about firefighting or to underscore ongoing issues in fire service. USFA, which has no regulatory authority, sends an experienced fire investigator to the community after a major incident only after conferring with local fire authorities.

The boardwalk fire occurred on August 29, 2000, and fire investigators later determined it was deliberately set. At the time of the report, no one had been charged with the crime. The fire went to seven alarms and required firefighters from four communities. No one was killed in the blaze and one firefighter suffered a minor injury.

A copy of the full report can be ordered by visiting http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fire-service/techreports/tr137.shtm.

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