Usually a time for celebrating, the July 4th holiday began with a tragedy 30 years ago. Around 4 a.m. that morning in 1984, a fire started at the Elliott Chambers Rooming House in Beverly, Mass., and spread up the stairway to living quarters on the second and third floor. Escape was nearly impossible as people were trapped in their rooms. (Back then, rooming houses were known as "death traps" due to the high number of fatalities at these settings.) The incident killed 15 people, including a person who leaped to their death, and injured nine others.
Massachusetts lawmakers responded swiftly to the event; in near-record time, they passed legislation that allowed communities to choose to require sprinklers in boarding and lodging houses. Many communities adopted the law, which led to a decline in rooming house fires and related fatalities. The Massachusetts Department of Fire Services dubs the legislation "one of the great fire prevention success stories."
Noting the rapidity of the sprinkler legislation's passage, Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan wonders why the state's 23 fire deaths in one- and two-family homes in 2013 did not lead to a similar response. "We need to give local communities the ability to choose to require sprinklers when new homes are built, to save future generations of people from dying where they should feel safest--their own homes," Coan stated in a press release on the 30th anniversary of the Beverly fire. "There is legislation pending right now that would do just that. The Legislature in 1984 moved swiftly and decisively in favor of life safety. I hope the Legislature of 2014 will do so as well."
For more information on sprinkler news in the Commonwealth, visit the Massachusetts Fire Sprinkler Coalition site.