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Fire Chiefs Call for Changes in Fire Codes

New York's fire service leaders have called on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to enact new laws toughening the penalties for making illegal conversions to existing buildings.

By NYSAFC Executive Director Jerry DeLuca

The New York State Association of Fire Chiefs recently called upon Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to enact new laws toughening the penalties for making illegal conversions to existing buildings.

NYSAFC, along with members of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York (FASNY), Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York (AFDSNY), the New York State Fire Coordinators' Association, and the Volunteer Fire Police Association of the State of New York met on December 3, 2016, in Albany, NY and adopted a list of legislative changes they are seeking in the 2017 Legislative Session. This list is known as the Issues of United Concern. One of the six items agreed to by the group is the need to strengthen the laws governing the illegal conversion of buildings without building permits and oversight from fire and code enforcement officials.

This proposal is especially relevant in light of the “Ghost Ship” fire in Oakland, CA. According to NYSAFC President Joseph Fahd, “While New York may not see warehouses being used to hold illegal parties, we are faced with the problem of one-family homes being converted into multi-family homes and commercial facilities being converted to residences without permits. This may sound like a technical violation, but these conversions place residents and firefighters at risk for serious injury or death.”

The fire service has been advocating for changes since a 2005 fire in New York City claimed the lives of three veteran FDNY members on what is known as Black Sunday. The firefighters were trapped in a building that had been illegally converted into multiple apartments and their anticipated means of exit was blocked by an illegal wall that had been erected.

NYSAFC Executive Director Jerry DeLuca said, “Throughout the state, unscrupulous landlords are converting one-family homes into two, three, or more units to maximize the rental income. These conversions are done without permits or approval from code enforcement officials. They pay no attention to requirements for multiple means of egress or other fire code violations. These actions are jeopardizing the lives of tenants and firefighters for the sake of an extra dollar.”

DeLuca further said, “Constructing these units is already a violation of the code, but the penalties are often viewed as a cost of doing business. There is no sense of urgency or understanding of the very real safety concerns by the courts, prosecutors, or local government. Our members want the state of New York to address these issues through legislation, education, and enforcement before we experience a situation like the Ghost Ship fire.”

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