ADVISORY

To: Head of Fire Departments
From: Stephen D. Coan, State Fire Marshal
Date: March 29, 2001
Re: Regulatory Activity Relative to Certain Dangerous or Abandoned Buildings - Update

At the March meeting of the FCAM, the membership engaged in extensive discussions concerning the proposed amendment changes to the State Building Code (780 CMR 121.7 and 121.8). The discussion focused on the importance of securing dangerous or abandoned buildings, but, at the same time, recognized the fiscal impact to communities who are forced to manage these properties in the event that the owner fails to take the necessary action.

The proposed amendments draw a clear distinction between the responsibility of known owners and the responsibility of the communities when the owner fails to take the necessary action.

In the case of a building with a known owner, said person shall

  • remove all materials deemed to be dangerous in case of fire
  • secure all floors accessible from grade using one of the approved methods in 780 CMR 121.7
  • maintain fire alarms or sprinkler systems
  • maintain utilities

In the case of an owner who fails to take the necessary action and direct intervention of the community, the building official shall only secure all windows and door openings in accordance with the U.S.F.A. board up procedures. To reiterate, the building official shall not be required to remove materials from the interior of said building or maintain fire alarms or utilities.

A second component of this plan has been approved by the Board of Fire Prevention Regulations through the emergency adoption of 527 CMR 10, 10.13, Emergency Planning and Preparedness. This regulation requires that the building official, in cooperation with the head of the fire department, shall mark same building in accordance with the requirements established by the Board of Fire Prevention Regulations.

The proposed amendments to 780 CMR, the State Building Code, will be heard by the Board of Building Regulations and Standards during their regularly scheduled meeting on April 10. By separate e-mail, Chief Thomas Garrity, President of the FCAM, has asked membership to be present at this meeting to support the amendment.

I believe that, absent statutory changes, these regulations greatly increase firefighter safety through the enhanced management of vacant/abandoned buildings.


Draft as of 2-27-01
Amend 780 CMR § 121 by adding two new subsections: (1) 121.7 and (2) 121.8.

780 CMR 121.7 Standards for making buildings safe or secure: Any owner of a building who has been notified that said building shall be made safe or secure under 780 CMR 121.2, shall:

(1) Remove all materials determined by the head of the fire department or local building inspector to be dangerous in case of fire.
(2) Secure all floors accessible from grade utilizing one of the following methods so long as such method is approved by the head of the fire department and local building inspector in writing:

(a) Secure all window and door openings in accordance with the U.S. Fire Administration, National Arson Prevention Initiative Board Up Procedures, continuously until such time as the building is reoccupied; or
(b) Provide 24 hour watchman services, continuously until such time as the building is reoccupied; or
(c) Provide a monitored intruder alarm system at the perimeter of all floors accessible from grade, continuously until such time as the building is reoccupied.

Said owner, as the case may be, shall notify the building official that the approved method chosen to secure the building has been incorporated. Said owner shall allow the building official to enter the building for an inspection to ascertain that the building is secured and made safe. Said owner shall allow the head of the fire department to enter the building. The building official shall be supplied with records of maintenance and operation if the provisions in clause 2 (b) or (c) are used.

(3) Maintain any existing fire alarms or sprinkler systems unless written permission is obtained from the head of the fire department in accordance with M.G.L. c. 148, § 27A to shut off or disconnect said alarms or systems.

(4) Maintain utilities unless written permission is obtained from the building official to disconnect said utilities. Permission to disconnect utilities shall not be granted if it will result in inadequate heat to prevent freezing of an automatic sprinkler system or inadequate utilities to maintain any other protection systems.

Upon refusal or neglect of said owner to comply with such notice, any building official acting under the authority of 780 CMR 121.3 or 121.5, shall secure all window and door openings accessible from grade in accordance with the U.S. Fire Administration, National Arson Prevention Initiative Board Up Procedures, continuously until such time as the building is reoccupied.

Any building which has been made to conform to the provisions of this regulation during vacancy may be reoccupied under its original use and occupancy classification, provided that any systems which were disconnected or shut down during the period of vacancy are restored to fully functional condition. The local building inspector shall be notified in writing prior to re-occupancy. If said building is changed in use or occupancy or otherwise renovated or altered it shall be subject to the applicable provisions of 780 CMR 34.

780 CMR 121.8: Marking or identifying certain buildings that are especially unsafe in the case of fire. Any building official who determines that a building is especially unsafe in case of fire under 780 CMR 121.2, shall notify the head of the fire department about the existence of said building. The building official, in cooperation and the with the head of the fire department, shall mark said building in accordance with the marking requirements established by the Board of Fire Prevention Regulations in 527 CMR 10.00.




527 CMR 10.00 FIRE PREVENTION, GENERAL PROVISIONS

10.13: Emergency Planning and Preparedness

(1) 527 CMR 10.13 is hereby further amended by adding, after section 10.13
(6), the following new section:

(7) Marking or identifying certain buildings that are especially unsafe in the case of fire

(a) Any building determined to be especially unsafe in case of fire , under the provisions of 780 CMR 121.2 shall be identified and marked by the building official, with the cooperation of the head of the fire department, to indicate the degree of hazard.
(b) In marking such buildings, the following symbols shall be used:

This symbol shall mean that interior hazard exists to such a degree that interior operations shall be conducted with extreme caution.

This symbol shall mean that severe structural deficiencies or severe interior deficiencies exist to such a degree that operations shall be from the outside except for when a life hazard exists.

(c) Markings shall be applied on the front of the building at or above the second floor level, where practical, between openings such that they are visible from the street. Markings may be applied to the sides or the rear of a building if the head of the fire department deems such placement necessary. Markings shall also be applied in a conspicuous place near every entrance and on penthouses. Markings shall not be applied over doors, windows, or other openings where they may be obscured by smoke or fire.
(d) Markings shall be a minimum of 24 inches by 24 inches. Markings shall either be on a placard with a reflective background or painted with a reflective paint of contrasting color directly on the surface of the building. Stripes and borders outside of the marking shall be a minimum of 2 inches wide.
(e) All markings shall bear a date as to when applied or the date of the most recent inspection.
(f) Prior to receiving a mark, all buildings shall be inspected thoroughly by the head of the fire department.