Two points make a line, but not a trend. Let’s hope the two deck collapses at the Jersey Shore this past summer were an unfortunate coincidence, not a return to the bad old days.
Earlier this month, the fall of the third- and second-floor decks at a multi-unit rental property in Wildwood injured at least 19. It coincided with the annual New Jersey Firemen’s Convention in the city, so many firefighters and family members were hurt. Luckily, no injuries were life-threatening.
A couple of months earlier, a deck collapsed in Sea Isle City during a house party, sending several to the hospital. Partygoers said eight to 10 people were on the deck when it failed. Neighbors said they saw 20 to 30 people.
There was a time, not that many uyears ago, when deck collapses at the shore occurred with unacceptable frequency.
As many as 60 partygoers in Avalon fell to the ground when a second-floor deck collapsed in 1995. That same year, an elderly North Wildwood man was killed when his second-floor deck collapsed while he was doing some work on it.
At a Memorial Day weekend party in Avalon in 1998, from 30 to 50 people gathered on a second-floor deck of a duplex, which came crashing down at about 9:45 p.m.
Farther up the coast in Point Pleasant Beach in 2002, a second-floor deck collapsed at a Fourth of July party that drew at least 300 people, sending 33 of them to three area hospitals.
When we editorialized the next year in favor of requiring decks to be made stronger and more securely attached to buildings, we noted that the popularity of decks and large social gatherings at the shore had made deck collapses “almost annual events.”
Then in 2009 the world’s advanced nations agreed to adopt uniform international building codes, which among many other things applied stricter standards for deck construction and attachment.
Treated wood that wouldn’t rot was required in places, as well as bolting decks to the building instead of just nailing them. Larger columns, stronger underlying structures, better flashing to keep out rain and tie-down anchors also helped. The Cape May County Construction Board of Appeals credited such changes and towns mandating frequent inspections for greatly reducing deck collapses.
Owners are required to bring decks constructed before 2009 up to the stricter code if they resurface the deck or install new railings. But that means a deck built before then that hasn’t gotten an upgrade may still pose a risk.
The investigation into the cause of the collapse beneath firefighters and their families in Wildwood may well find that lack of adherence to the modern, stricter building code was a factor.
It can be tough to remember this while having a great time at a big party at the shore, but the deck on an older building may be a hazard if a lot of people get on it. In 2004, Wildwood tried to help make people aware of the risk by requiring rental buildings to post occupancy limits.
Still, accidents can happen anywhere to almost anyone. A real estate agent was showing two potential buyers a home in Stone Harbor in 2014 when its second-floor deck fell out from under them. That must have made it a tough sell.