Friday, October 11, 2013

MBSA Reacts to Masachusettes Fire Chief's Rants

Earlier this week I published another rant by the publicity seeking volunteer fire chief in Mass. against the entire modular home industry. Click here to read the article.

Today I received this email from Tom Hardiman, Executive Director of the Modular Building Systems Association telling me that he has written a letter to the Fire Engineering magazine which recently published the fire chief's rant.  This is why is it super important to join together and stand enlighten those that don't understand modular home construction.

Here is his email to me AND his yet to be published (if it ever will be) letter to the editor of Fire Engineering:
Gary (Modcoach),

Attached is my letter to the editor of Fire Engineering Magazine in response and rebuttal of Kevin Gallagher’s recent anti-industry story.  The editor said he would consider publishing my reply but I don’t know if that will happen or not.  In any case, I wanted your readers to know that the modular home association – Modular Building Systems Association  - did in fact respond to this attack.

Thank you,

Tom Hardiman, CAE
Modular Building Systems Association
and here is his letter to the editor:

Bobby Dalton, Editor in Chief
Fire Engineering Magazine

Dear Mr. Dalton,

I am writing on behalf of the modular construction industry to reply to the article written by Kevin Gallagher in your September 18, 2013 issue.  There are a number of issues I would like to address, as Mr. Gallagher’s attacks on the modular industry go back several years. 

In his article “Modular Concerns: Do We Have a Problem?” Mr. Gallagher states at one point, “I do not know the answers to these questions,” referring to his posed question of “Do we have a national fire problem with modular homes?”  Later in his article, he asks the question again, “Do we have a problem?”  This time his answer is an emphatic “YES”! 

I am not an engineer, a fire fighter or a builder.  But I have a very simple question: What evidence is there to show this problem really exists anywhere outside of Mr. Gallagher’s mind?  He has made quite a reputation for himself and found a topic that has generated a lot of interest. Unfortunately for your readers and the attendees at his presentations, he presents a totally unsubstantiated and biased opinion based on no real evidence. He even states as much in the article when he says, “despite the considerable effort of the (NFPA) library’s staff, we could not find any literature on the topic of modular construction in general or fires in modular structures in general.”   I would contend the reason that no data exists on this specific “problem” is that the problem doesn’t exist to the extent Mr. Gallagher leads you to believe.

Modular homes, unlike HUD Code manufactured housing, are built to the same building codes as their traditional stick built counterparts.  In most states, modular homes are built to the International Residential Code or a state version thereof.  There is no “modular home code”  as modular construction is simply a construction process, not a product.  This process allows for a safer construction environment, a higher degree of quality control, less material waste in our landfills and, yes, a safer, more durable home than a site built structure.  And while there is research to show the difference in risk levels between a stick built home and a “manufactured home” (a.k.a. mobile home), that research  is not relevant to code-built modular homes.

Mr. Gallagher cites differences in the modular construction process that, according to him, lends these homes to a greater risk for fire damage.  He references the interstitial or void spaces in modular homes.  He attempted to get this requirement changed in the 2009 IRC code development cycle and again in the NFPA 5000. In both cases, Mr. Gallagher’s proposals were rejected, with the NFPA citing “concerns with the reports presented in the substantiation.”  

He was not able to convince his code development peers that a problem exists, mainly because it does not.  Despite his setbacks with NFPA and IRC, Mr. Gallagher insisted that the modular industry conduct extensive and expensive tests to “prove our innocence,” while continuing his personal campaign against the industry.  

His next target was the use of foam only ceiling assemblies. In 2010, the modular industry hired an independent consultant to examine the relative strengths of two different ceiling assemblies in a fire emergency: ceiling panels installed with (a) foam adhesives only, and (b) a combination of foam adhesives and mechanical fasteners.  This process yielded inconclusive results and was stopped prior to the finalization of any written report, mainly due to the downturn in the housing market.  Acting conservatively, the industry did not challenge the new code proposal in Massachusetts pushed through by Mr. Gallagher, and now utilizes both foam adhesives and mechanical fasteners for ceiling assemblies in all modular homes sold in the state.  

 Mr. Gallagher has been recognized and celebrated for his efforts and invited to speak at national conferences on this issue.   However, there simply is no substance behind his claims, and his entire argument is based on what he says in the opening sentence of this article; “While standing in front of a burning two-story residence in 2008…” Where is his evidence aside from his “observations”?
Modular construction is not a new process as Mr. Gallagher would have your readers believe.  In 1969, a 21-story hotel was built on the Riverwalk in San Antonio utilizing modular construction.  That hotel is still safely operating today.  Over the past five years, the modular industry has constructed and installed more than five million square feet of permanent housing and building space for the U.S. Government, mainly within the Department of Defense.  The happiest place on Earth utilized modular construction in 1971 when building two of their most popular resorts in Orlando.  How likely is it that a multi-billion dollar corporation would risk its reputation and livelihood by housing families in unsafe structures?  Neither would we as an industry pose such risks to our customers.

Our industry is proud of the modular homes we build and will continue to provide safe, code-compliant homes at competitive prices. Mr. Gallagher has every right to share his opinions on the issue, but your readers should know they are just his opinions and not based on any real evidence.  Further, they should seek information from a variety of sources on the issue before reaching any conclusions. 

The Modular Building Systems Association is a non-profit trade organization serving the modular home industry nationwide.  The Resources section of our website,, is one such place for information.  I thank you for the opportunity to reply to Mr. Gallagher’s article and invite your readers to contact our organization with any further questions about modular construction.

Tom Hardiman, Executive Director

Modular Building Systems Association 


Anonymous said...

I don't get the response by MBSA. I would prefer a letter citing examples of the safety, quality and durability of modular homes.

Just attacking Mr. Gallager over and over seems silly.

You know the old saying about wrestling a pig in the mud, you both get dirty but the pig likes it!

Anonymous said...

Finally. Someone at MBSA is talking about something. I went to their website and it looks very thin content. Did someone start to do their website and then quit?
I hope that Modcoach doesn't quit or we will have no way of getting information about the happenings of the modular home industry.

FGT said...

Thanks to Tom and MBSA for their continued efforts to address the issues in MASS on behalf of the industry. Tom has put time, effort and funds towards resolving this issue prior to his involvement with MBSA as well realizing it affected the entire modular industry, not just SF residential.

Let me remind those who criticize such efforts that YOUR trade organization can only do as much as you allow it to with your guidance AND financial commitment. Over the past several years the MBSA's modular constituency has abandoned them, with the exception of a literal handful of industry leaders like Muncy, Handcrafted, Simpson Strong Tie, RWC, Penn West, Ritz-Craft and Genesis.

The criticism should not be directed towards those who are trying to make a difference rather place your money and knowledge where your mouth is and use the power of a united industry to get the changes you want to see.

Anonymous said...

I am a builder in mainly RI, I do cross over to MA & CT. Articles like this hurt all of our business, especially in the northeast. Mr. Gallagher oversteps his bounds with false information. We need to stand together to overcome this negativity. Lets us all, as builders, be part of the solution to rid our business of his opinion. We should all thank Mr. Hardiman, and help him, with facts, as much as we can