Thursday’s fire in a Weymouth condominium building under construction is the latest fire in Massachusetts with a familiar ring. Newer lightweight wood construction, that burns faster and hotter than traditional lumber and buildings not yet protected by fire alarms, sprinklers and other protective elements are posing a fire risk of potentially dramatic proportions.

While we are closest to these in Massachusetts, having seen not only the one in Weymouth, but recent ones in Waltham and Dorchester, the problem of construction-site fires is playing out all across the country. Just from news accounts, we have seen at least five others this year – commercial buildings in Colorado and Vermont and apartment buildings in North Carolina, Kansas and California. Four were being constructed with wood. In 2011-2015, local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 3,820 fires in structures under construction each year. These fires caused an average of three civilian deaths, 49 civilian injuries, 232 firefighter injuries, and $176 million in direct property damage annually. It has been reported that the losses in the Waltham and Boston fires were over $100 million and over $40 million respectively. The loss in the most recent fire in Weymouth is estimated between $20 and $30 million. According to the National Fire Protection Association the average loss in properties under construction is more than twice the average loss in all structures.

These incidents beg a series of questions starting with, “Why is this happening and how do we fix it?” Every state including Massachusetts adopts a code that dictates the actions needed to protect buildings under construction, as well as other fire and life safety codes. Are the code requirements adequate? Are those that must comply with the requirements educated about them? Are the codes being enforced? And is everyone truly aware of the continued risk of fire and able to act to prevent and respond? It is particularly troubling to hear in the Dorchester fire the long delay before calling the fire department, allowing the fire to grow larger before a response.

To keep communities safe, a full system of fire safety must be in place. Government and other entities should adopt and designers should use the latest versions of codes and standards to get the benefit of the latest technology, research and collective wisdom related to fire, electrical and life safety.

Users need to review and follow standards that are referenced in the codes so they are ensuring the right practices and products are used in the right situations, minimizing vulnerability to disaster. Jurisdictions, under fiscal pressures or lack of understanding of the importance, need to resist the inclination to reduce enforcement efforts. And the public cannot take safety for granted and be uneducated about fire risks. Their improper or uneducated actions can place them in peril. Everyone can play a role in their own safety.

There is not a single answer to the fire problem. There are several pieces. We may not be able to prevent every tragedy from occurring, but by recommitting to and promoting a full system of fire prevention, protection and education, we can work together to help save lives and reduce loss.

Jim Pauley is president of the National Fire Protection Association in Quincy.

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