From apartment buildings to hospitals, nearly 500 high-rises in New Jersey are not fully protected by a fire sprinkler system, according to a statewide analysis released Monday.

But they're not breaking any rules.

In the analysis from the New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board and the PenJerDel chapter of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, it was found that more than 150 New Jersey high-rise buildings — mostly residential — are not equipped with any components of a fire sprinkler system. Another 342 are partially protected.

"We don't want the occupants having a false sense of security, thinking I live in this big high-rise structure, I'm fine," said NJFSAB Executive Director David Kurasz. "The reality is you're at more of a risk than a normal citizen of a one- or two-family house, and the reason why is because of the limited means of egress in case of a fire scenario."

In the event of a high-rise fire, Kurasz said, tenants are prohibited from using elevators, and the stairs they must use to get out of harm's way are the same stairs needed by firefighters to access the area of the flames.

"We don't have a large amount of high-rise fires, but when we do, they are extremely impactful, extremely devastating, and extremely taxing on the fire service and the municipality," he said.

The report does not reference the specific buildings without full fire sprinkler protection, including nine hospitals. But 10 cities, listed below, were found to combine for a total of 296 high-rise buildings that are not fully sprinklered.

  • Newark (91)
  • Jersey City (43)
  • Fort Lee (35)
  • Hackensack (27)
  • Paterson (25)
  • Hoboken (17)
  • Trenton (17)
  • West New York (16)
  • East Orange (13)
  • Atlantic City (12)

For decades now, it's been required that high-rise buildings erected in New Jersey be equipped with a fire sprinkler system. Kurasz said the properties referenced in the report are much older buildings that were not subject to these requirements.

"They should have the ability and the luxury that the modern code is built to," Kurasz said.

Implementing such a system could cost as much as $30,000 per unit in a high-rise building, said David Brogan, executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association.

"New Jersey already has one of the highest costs of living in the country," Brogan said. "The people who wrote this report, honestly, have the luxury of not having to worry about the cost, while the rest of New Jersey does have to worry about it."

Brogan said New Jersey residents would be on the hook for costs necessary to add sprinklers to high-rise units that serve as affordable housing. In other cases, tenants could have to put out as much as $400 extra per month to cover costs.

"About a dozen years ago, the state looked into requiring sprinkler retrofits, but found it prohibitively expensive," Brogan said.

For any high-rise that may not be fully protected by a fire sprinkler system, Brogan said, firefighters can connect to a standpipe on any floor.

"Multifamily housing is one of the safest places to live in the state," he added.

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