Could massive Hillsborough warehouse fire have been avoided?
If a few upgrades were put in place, it's possible last week's massive warehouse fire in Hillsborough - along with school and road closures - could have been avoided.
Hillsborough fire officials have been relatively quiet since the raging two-day blaze was contained, but before handing the operation over to the feds, they insisted an outdated sprinkler system and low water pressure caused difficulties for firefighters hoping to salvage what they could of Veterans Industrial Park.
The complex is owned by the federal government, meaning Hillsborough's jurisdiction is limited, according to local officials, and the town and state don't have much say in the quality of fire suppression systems that are put in place.
Officials have been quoted as saying the systems would have been updated if the town had full jurisdiction, but they have not expanded on those initial comments.
Glenn Corbett, a former assistant fire chief for Waldwick Township and a current professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, confirms that any federally-owned building is not subject to state or local regulations.
"They can either accept or dismiss anything the local and state officials might bring to them, even though, ironically, if a fire does break out there, they're going to rely on the local fire department to respond," Corbett told New Jersey 101.5.
A township spokesperson on Friday noted limited improvements had been made to the systems in order to address Hillsborough's concerns, but more would have been done if there was no jurisdictional issue.
Request for comment from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - which is handling the investigation - went unanswered.
In any case, given the size of the blaze and the damage done, Corbett insisted there was an obvious disconnect between the sprinkler systems in place and what was actually needed.
"Very often, the sprinkler system that's in an existing building is not compatible with what's being stored in there, or the proposal for what's being stored," Corbett explained.
Local officials have said the warehouses were holding furniture, paper records, food goods and plastic pellets. According to NJ.com, Hillsborough Chief Fire Marshal Chris Weinger said "the type of commodities" that were present when the sprinkler systems were installed are "very different than the commodities that we see today."
"Those things all have to match up, and if they don't, then the net result is what we saw last week," Corbett said.