Fire When Ready, Gridley


You know that it would be untrue/ You know that I would be a liar …

Well, it’s not as if I didn’t tell you so:

The AvalonBay workers who sparked a massive blaze [in Edgewater] that displaced 1,000 people didn’t delay their call to 911 for 15 minutes — in fact, at no point did they call the emergency number, according to town officials and documents.  A review of dozens of pages of dispatch logs, 911 tapes as well as interviews with officials has revealed no record that any AvalonBay employee alerted authorities to the January 21 fire.  Of the six 911 calls made to report the fire, none were made by AvalonBay employees. Instead, dispatch logs obtained through a public records request show that firefighters were first notified of the blaze at 4:22 p.m. by the automated fire alert system in the complex.

Edgewater Police Chief William Skidmore said the narrative that workers called 911 about 15 minutes after the fire began was “an assumption by the media,” and says he never made such claims. “I did not correct that assumption till the dispatch tapes were checked,” he said [late last week]. “I apologize for the confusion but I don’t like to give out information until it’s been verified.”


And sometimes not even then … because even two weeks after the fire, Chief Skidmore didn’t volunteer the fact that the maintenance workers had never called 911: he waited until news reporters called him on it.

Of course, it might also be “an assumption by the media” that the pyrotechnic plumbers responsible for all this were AvalonBay employees rather than subcontractors from a service industry vendor.  Which leaves me wondering: was a certain facilities maintenance company denied the opportunity to obtain (or extend) an exclusive contract to perform maintenance work at the Edgewater AvalonBay location? Or perhaps at other AvalonBay communities in the Five Families Region?  Or is it just that AvalonBay has knowingly employed undocumented Mexican laborers in violation of federal immigration law?  Inquiring minds might want to know. Especially at the Newark Field Division.

Right now most of the public narrative regarding this incident revolves around the belated “realization” that highly flammable wood construction methods may not be suitable for high-density, multi-family dwelling units in an urban environment.  It’s a little late to be seeing the light and getting religion, but New Jersey’s municipal officials have been in the pockets of real estate developers for so long that it’s not surprising it would require a near-tragedy to prompt some serious CYA activity on the part of the usual suspects.

I happen to favor the use of light gauge steel stud framing and magnesium oxide wallboard to mitigate some of the most egregious fire risks.  Yes, it’s somewhat more expensive and thus makes housing construction somewhat less profitable. But just wait until one of those sprawling, senior citizen “independent living” complexes burns to the ground. They’re built with the same code-compliant lightweight wood framing techniques, and they’ll combust just as thoroughly as AvalonBay.  When municipal officials suddenly lose a few hundred reliably docile absentee voters on election day, maybe they’ll be singing a different tune.


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