M.G.L. C. 148 S. 26 Does it Apply to Me?

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 will be the first 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.

Why is this important to you, you may ask? Because some of these requirements apply to new and existing buildings, sometimes irrespective of ongoing project(s). Furthermore, the requirements of the various codes, standards, and laws do not always align, so it is important to understand the differences such that the most-restrictive requirements can be satisfied.

The first Sections that will be addressed are M.G.L. Chapter 148 Section 26A & Section 26A ½.

M.G.L. Ch. 148 S. 26A: “Automatic Sprinklers in High Rise Buildings; Enforcement; Appeals” reads as follows:

Section 26A. Every building or structure of more than seventy feet in height above the mean grade shall be protected with an adequate system of automatic sprinklers in accordance with the provisions of the state building code, except that sprinklers shall not be required to be installed in patient rooms in hospitals.

The head of the fire department shall enforce the provisions of this section.

Whoever is aggrieved by the head of the fire department’s interpretation, order, requirement, direction or failure to act under the provisions of this section, may, within forty-five days after the service of notice thereof, appeal from such interpretation, order, requirement, direction, or failure to act, to the board of appeals as provided in the state building code and section twenty-three of chapter twenty-three B.

There are two important aspects to this M.G.L.: (1) all high-rise buildings in Massachusetts (except for hospital patient rooms) are required to be sprinklered; and (2) this requirement is subject to the enforcement of the head of the fire department in the municipality where the building is located. At first glance, the initial sentence would appear to be all encompassing for high-rise buildings in Massachusetts irrespective of occupancy (except hospital patient rooms), regardless if the building is new or existing. However, it is important to note that this M.G.L. is supplemented by Section 26A ½ for certain buildings where construction commenced prior to January 1, 1975.  It is also important to note that, while M.G.L. 26A provides an exemption for patient rooms in hospitals, sprinklering of such spaces is still often required by other governing codes and standards (e.g. 780 CMR, NFPA 101, as enforced by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), etc.).

On a related note, M.G.L. Ch. 148 S. 26A ½ addresses existing high-rise buildings that currently are not provided with sprinkler protection. At the surface, this Section may appear to much of the same as Section 26A; however, this Law specifically addresses buildings constructed prior to 1975. The intent of this Section is to retroactively enforce the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in older high-rise buildings. While it is believed that the majority of existing high-rise buildings are, at this time, provided with sprinkler protection, either at the time of erection or via this M.G.L., Section 26A ½ remains in effect to permit the head of the Fire Department to enforce this provision on any nonconforming buildings. Exceptions to M.G.L. Ch. 148 S. 26A ½ include hospital patient rooms, libraries, houses of public worship, and condominium buildings.

In both cases, the requirements of M.G.L. Chapter 148 Sections 26A and 26A ½ require the head of the Fire Department to enforce these provisions. Therefore, it is possible that not all jurisdictions may choose to enforce the decision; however, it is extremely important to note that if the head of the Fire Department does choose to enforce this section of the M.G.L., they can do so at any time even where the building remains occupied without any ongoing or future planned upgrades.