Many in Massachusetts may be too young to remember the tragic events that unfolded on July 4th, 1984, but many thousands of people have likely benefitted from the changes that took place soon afterward. At around 4 a.m. on July 4, 1984, a fire began outside of a rooming house known as The Elliot Chambers. There were 36 people staying at the Elliot Chambers that night, but 14 people never made it out and one more life was lost a month later from severe burns. Firefighter and survivor accounts of that tragic day leave little to the imagination of the horror that was experienced.
Soon after the fire, Massachusetts enacted legislation that would give all communities in the state the option to require fire sprinkler systems be installed in all rooming houses (Massachusetts General Law Chapter 148, Section 26H). The legislation led to a significant and steady decrease in the number of fatal rooming house fires throughout Massachusetts and undoubtedly saved lives.
Fortunately, Massachusetts has not seen a fire with such tragic results in 30 years, however at the time that I am writing this letter, 27 fire fatalities were reported in Massachusetts since June 1, 2013. Though many of these lives were lost in separate incidents, it does not change the fact that if legislation was passed that would allow communities to locally adopt the installation of fire sprinkler systems in newly constructed one and two-family homes, lives would be saved.
Currently there is legislation that would make this possible. If the 2015 State Budget is passed with Sections 77, 78 & 79 of Senate Bill No. 2160 (Fire Sprinklers in 1 & 2 Family Homes), local Massachusetts municipalities across the Commonwealth would be able to decide on the level of fire protection they want to offer their citizens. The local option of this legislation puts to rest the argument against residential fire sprinklers based on a lack of interest and infrastructure allowing only the municipalities that want to enact the legislation to do so.
This July 4th, while celebrating how far this Nation has come since 1776; remember also how far Massachusetts has come since 1984. I urge you to check the batteries in your smoke alarms, to learn more about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the ravages of fire, and to support local option residential fire sprinkler system legislation.
New England Regional Manager
National Fire Sprinkler Association