BY ROBERT GRANT, DIRECTOR OF MANAGEMENT
DIVERSIFIED PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
New York City Fire Chief Marshal Louis Garcia, Bureau of Fire Investigation, issued a directive, effective June 22, 1999, regarding what he described as "the reckless and illegal practice of using propane torches in installing modified roofing material on combustible [wood deck] roofs, and establishing guidelines for the arrest and prosecution of individuals and companies responsible for this reckless behavior.
More than 70% of all co-ops with flat roofs in New York have wood decks and are affected by this new, but little publicized law. The City Council was advised that a study showed that between 1994 and 1998 there was an average of 35 roof fires per year. During that time, a well-publicized roof fire burned down an entire shopping center in the Midwest. Finally, on May 10, 1999, a disaster led to the immediate adoption and implementation of these rules.
Roofers using propane torches to install modified roofing started a 3-alarm fire that destroyed 30 apartments at 327 West 30 Street in Manhattan, leaving those residents homeless. The operator of the torch and the owner of the roofing company were arrested for reckless endangerment of property.
The penalty for violating these rules, built into the rules themselves, is arrest for endangerment of property. Further, anyone sanctioning the illegal use of propane on roofs, including board members, engineers or architects, attorneys who draw up contracts, managing agents and roofing companies, can all be subject to arrest!
The development and popular use of torching down modified roofing began in the early 1980's. Torching rolls of modified bitumen resulted in instant adherence of this waterproof membrane roof layer, so that installation became quick and easy. In a sudden rain, the section of the opened roof could be torched and closed and then sealed with flashing cement. The ease of this process led to scores of new companies jumping into the roofing business. This competition led to very low pricing for repairs, overlays or entire roof replacements. Hundreds of buildings hired inexperienced contractors based on the low prices and the fact that modified bitumen roofs work without realizing the potential risk.
Under the newly adopted Rule 3, RCNY}43-01 entitled "Residential Fire Safety Plans and Notices" building owners, boards and their managing agents have to develop and distribute to every resident, every year, a seven-page safety plan for all buildings covered by this law. The first page of the plan must state very clearly, for all residents to read, whether they live in a combustible or non-combustible building. The date for distributing the safety plan is November, 2000.
Now that this method of roof installation is illegal on combustible roofs, manufacturers are scrambling to keep their share of the market and numerous, less qualified roofing companies will undoubtedly go out of business. Rubberized (elasometric) roof systems that have non-torch adhesives will increase in popularity. The manufacturers of modified bitumen roofing have started producing their own cold mop adhesives that have short drying times (about 45 minutes). Cold mopping of these adhesives will become the cheaper method, but hot mopping roof membranes, which have always been thought of as the best system, will come back in vogue.
In selecting a system for an entire roof replacement on a non-combustible building, the insulation board that is fastened beneath the membrane must not be composed of wood fibers (fiberboard) or plastic/polystyrene (EPS board) if the system calls for torching because those boards are flammable. Many other insulation boards are suitable, such as perlite boards (manufactured from volcanic materials combined with organic fibers and waterproofing binders) and a host of glass fiber boards, polyurethane foam and pheolic foam boards.
It is not hard to imagine in the near future that all torching with open flames on any roof will become illegal. In the meantime, boards, engineers and architects, co-op corporate attorneys, managing agents and roofing companies themselves need to catch up on a law that is already one year old and STOP installing illegal and potentially hazardous torched-down roof materials on combustible wood deck apartment buildings.
THE ENTIRE INUDSTRY IS CHANGING
An entire industry that is essential to preserving and waterproofing buildings is changing. Everyone related to the decision to maintain, repair, install an overlay or replace a roof must learn the new codes and change as well.
Specifically the Administrative Code of the City of New York, Department of Buildings, Rules, Title 1, Chapter 25-07}(M)2 makes it illegal to operate, maintain or use propane in conjunction with an open flame or torch on the roof of any structure, unless the roof is of non-combustible constitution. A non-combustible roof means that the deck is either metal or poured concrete.
Further, the FDNY now requires that any person using a propane torch on a fireproof building's roof take a course and pass an exam to obtain a Certificate of Fitness (COF). The Fire Department also requires that for any torched down roof jobs a second person take a course, pass an exam, obtain a COF as a Fire Guard (a safety watch person) and be present on the roof whenever the propane torch is in use.
This new requirement to obtain COFs adds to the strict rules that already exist regarding transporting liquid propane gas (LPG) cylinders. The FDNY Tank Truck Unit now requires that a roof contractor present the two distinct COFs. They will then inspect the vehicle designated to transport the propane cylinders, testing the safety straps, the actual torch to be used and whether the employee driving is covered under a current worker's compensation policy. They will also verify that the vehicle has a 20 lb fire extinguisher (dry chemical preferred) and that the company has a fire extinguisher service contract for testing and filling the fire extinguisher twice each year. The vehicle must also have an emergency triangular kit (to post around the vehicle in case it breaks down on New York City streets or highways).
If the vehicle passes inspection, the FDNY will issue a yellow decal which lists the month and year expiration date. The decal must be affixed to the vehicle. The FDNY will also issue a one year permit to the owner, also listing the month and year that the permit expires.
There are serious penalties for violating the rule requiring a permit and vehicle decal when transporting propane cylinders and for violating the rules regulating the sale and the weight load restrictions when transporting same.
This writer recommends that all future roof contracts involving torched down roof systems require a hold harmless clause from the contractor if he or his propane supplier has an accident on the property. There should also be a reevaluation of whether the contractor's level of insurance on the certificate of insurance is adequate in the event of an accident. Finally, the contractor should clearly be held solely responsible for any fines or penalties caused by non-compliance with these new laws.
The Administrative Code of the City of New York, Department of Buildings Rules, Title 1, Chapter 27-4264 calls for a penalty of $1000 for the first offense and 30 days imprisonment for transporting propane without an FDNY permit. The second offense calls for a fine of $10,000.
The Rules in Chapter 27-4254/5 deal with regulating the licensed sale of propane gas cylinders and call for fines ranging from $1000 to $5000 and include imprisonment of up to one year.