By Sue Ellen Woodcock
With the Beach House under construction on Revere Beach Boulevard, and the new construction on the site of the old Shaw’s Market, people are seeing a lot of wood go up and wonder about safety before and after construction.
Revere Deputy Fire Chief Paul Cheever deals with these buildings, new and old, every day. As a licensed engineer and a firefighter, he is uniquely positioned to work with builders to make sure fire safety is addressed.
In addition to these developments, there are more four hotels planned for the city and more development being proposed.
“What concerns us is the wood-frame construction,” said Fire Chief Christopher Bright. “Deputy Chief Cheever has been way ahead on this.”
Fires have started on construction sites in Waltham and Cambridge. Chief Bright said the construction projects don’t have to be high-rise buildings, they can just be buildings with a large amount of square footage.
“They might be three or four stories high, but when they are under construction, they’re just as vulnerable,” said Bright. “Because they are wide open, there was no fire protection in place, and inadequate security can contribute to the vulnerability of these sites.”
The sites under construction currently in Revere have amped up security with cameras and security guards on site.
“As the construction moves along so does the protection. As the building is framed, we want to make sure they have the stairwell in place and the standpipe (which supplies water). We have to make sure they put in a fire department connection.”
The stand pipe goes up as the building rises, and the fire department knows they can tap into that line.
Cheever explained that developers have a choice of building materials to use from wood to metal, to concrete and composites. But it is the architect who decides the final materials, and it is often wood, one of the less expensive materials to use when building a high rise.
Cheever explained that a lot of construction being seen lately is called “podium construction,” made of reinforced concrete or steel at the base and building the parking garage on the first two levels and then building up from there with wood. The construction industry refers to the wood as environmentally friendly, Cheever said.
Massachusetts building code prohibits using the type of highly flammable skin, or cladding, found in the Grenfell Tower in London where 79 people perished June 14.
State regulations effectively ban the use of highly flammable material in high rises.
Exterior wall materials used in Massachusetts buildings taller than 40 feet must pass fire-safety testing, in accordance with the state’s building code.
The state’s building code right now matches the national standards for fire-safety testing of high rises.
Bright acknowledged that with all this building going on in Revere, it is inevitable there will be the need for another fire station, especially with the possibility of Amazon or other development coming to Suffolk Downs. The Point of Pines Station, closest to the boulevard, is closed, and it would take at least $2.5 million to rehab. The is also an old closed down fire station in Beachmont on Winthrop Avenues.
Bright is working on a master plan for the fire department, including a new Point of Pines Station and another when new development comes to the Wonderland area. He also hopes to hire a few, new firefighters to help out too and add to his contingent of 102 firefighters.
“The way the state building code has evolved calling for more strict restrictions, many other communities aren’t enforcing it, the way we are. Builders have to submit a NFPA 241, a fire safety plan for anything greater than two a two-family,” Cheever said. “It’s in the code, but it’s not necessarily something that would jump out at you. I learned about it a few years ago.”
Cheever said that part of the code makes the contractor take a look at the project from the foundation until the project is turned over to the owner and perform their construction project with fire safety in mind.
“Once you’re 30 feet above grade, you have to have a standpipe in the building and plumb to the starter, so we can hook up to them,” Cheever said. “The 241 pulls it all together as part of the permitting process. It forces the contractors to look at fire safety.”
Cheever is able to go on each construction site and check each item based on the Massachusetts state building and fire codes.
But the fire department interest in the building doesn’t end with construction, it continues long after people are living in the building, Bright said. He noted that maintenance of the building makes a difference in safety.
“There are some places we respond to all of the time and there are others that we’re never called to,” Bright said. “The city is growing out, and we have to respond to that. We have a good handle on all this construction.”