Retroactive Fire Protection Laws in MA: Do They Apply to Me? (Part 3)

When designing a new, or even modifying an existing, fire alarm or fire protection system, it is important to be aware of the implications of all applicable codes and standards. Did you know that beyond the Massachusetts State Building Code, 780 CMR, and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code, 527 CMR 1.00, there is a series of other requirements specific to fire prevention that could apply to your building? Of particular interest is Chapter 148, Fire Prevention, of the General Laws of Massachusetts (M.G.L.’s), which contains several such sections.

This blog is the third in a series on the requirements and caveats of the various subsections of M.G.L. Chapter 148 Section 26 which specifically address requirements for automatic sprinkler systems, fire warning and smoke detection systems, and carbon monoxide alarms in certain buildings. For Part 1 of the series focused on M.G.L Ch. 148 S. 26A and 26A½, please see here. Part 2 of the series focused on M.G.L Ch. 148 S. 26G, can be found here see here.

This third part of the series addresses M.G.L. Chapter 148 Section 26C.

M.G.L. Ch. 148 S. 26C: “Certain public accommodations; automatic smoke or heat detectors” reads as follows:

Apartment houses containing six or more dwelling units, hotels, boarding or lodging houses, or family hotels which are not regulated by section twenty-six A or twenty-six B shall be equipped with automatic smoke or heat detectors as provided by the rules and regulations of the board of fire prevention regulations.

The head of the fire department as defined in section one shall enforce the provisions of this section.

It is important to note that this section applies to rentable units of long-term housing when 6 or more are grouped within one building or to transient (short-term) housing buildings, where the building in either case is not considered to be a high-rise. When a building falls into one of these two categories, it is required to be provided with smoke and/or heat alarms/detectors as described within 527 CMR 1.00, Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code, which is an amended version of NFPA 1.

This law does not apply to new buildings as new construction must comply with the requirements of the current editions of 780 CMR, Massachusetts Building Code, and 527 CMR 1.00. Instead, this law is meant to apply to existing, noncompliant, residential buildings that have been built prior to January 1, 1975 (and not altered since), that otherwise do not comply with the codes applicable today. In this instance, noncompliant buildings are those that are not currently provided with smoke and/or heat alarms/detectors in areas of the building that would otherwise require them.

In April of 2018, the State Fire Marshal released an advisory on the application of M.G.L. Ch. 148 S. 26C, which can be viewed here, where these buildings are required to provide a minimum level of safety. This level of minimum protection was detailed within the superseded version of 527 CMR 1.00 Section 13.7.4.5, which was based on the 2012 Edition of NFPA 1. The provisions included the following items to be installed in accordance with NFPA 72:

  • Single- and multi-station interconnected smoke alarms within each dwelling unit
  • Manual pull stations
  • Hard wired and interconnected smoke detectors in the common areas and hallways
  • A fire alarm system which is monitored
  • Notification throughout the building

The advisory document also outlined how the original M.G.L. was approved November 17, 1989 and provided compliance deadlines for various community population thresholds, all of which have passed as of November 17, 1994.

The current publication of 527 CMR 1.00 is based on the 2015 Edition of NFPA 1 which no longer prescribes the minimum level of protection discussed above since it was believed by the BFPR committee to be unnecessary as the compliance deadlines had long expired (over 25 years ago). If the language has been removed from 527 CMR 1.00, why should all of this matter to you?

The State Fire Marshal’s advisory document was published to bridge the gap between M.G.L. Chapter 148 Section 26C and the currently adopted 527 CMR 1.00, which no longer specifically addresses this topic, as many residential buildings have been found to remain noncompliant with this M.G.L. Therefore, if it is discovered that any pre-January 1, 1975 residential building fall under the purview of M.G.L. Ch. 148 S. 26C, the Head of the Fire Department still maintains with authority to mandate retroactive compliance with this Law even if no other alterations or renovations occurring in the building.

It is important to note that other codes may come into play when considering the necessary fire alarm upgrades outlined in M.G.L. Ch. 148 S. 26C, such as 780 CMR. An example includes existing, Use Group R-2, residential buildings that contain more than 3 dwelling units and are not currently provided throughout with automatic sprinkler systems. These specific buildings are also required to be provided with system-type heat detectors within 6 feet of each dwelling unit entry doorway, per the Massachusetts Existing Building Code, 780 CMR Chapter 34, Section 302.10.

For any proposed work regulated by 780 CMR 34.00, the building owner is required to have the existing building to be investigated and evaluated in accordance with 780 CMR 34.00 (780 CMR 34, Section 104.2.2.1) and accurately ascertain the effects of the work on the structural, means of egress, fire protection, energy conservation, lighting, hazardous materials, accessibility, and ventilation for the space under construction. The results of said investigation and evaluated are required to be presented to the building official in written report form.