Hartung said Breen explained sprinkler systems would be needed at some point, but church staff didn't realize they had to be installed now.
Hartung admits he may have misunderstood the chief, but doesn't believe that's the case.
"It wasn't explained that we needed the waiver," Hartung said. "Maybe I was just naive."
Yasenka and officials at two other Salem congregations, St. David's Episcopal Church and First Congregational Church, said they are disappointed they couldn't begin serving the families.
They are waiting for Breen to decide whether to grant the waiver. Meanwhile, they are working to make the necessary upgrades, including the installation of hard-wired carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. St. David's needed a $14,000 fire alarm system, according to the Rev. Carolyn Stevenson.
A similar situation occurred in Derry at Calvary Bible Church, where fire Chief George Klauber granted a waiver after the church necessary upgrades.
The Salem church leaders said they don't want to compromise on safety and aren't blaming anyone for the delay.
"It's a little bit frustrating, but we just couldn't start doing it," Yasenka said. "We understand why those in charge of the code want to make sure it's as safe as we can make it. We're committed to providing housing to families in Salem."
St. David's and First Congregational are scheduled to begin hosting families June 9. Church leaders hope the problem can be resolved by then.
"We're hoping it will all get worked out quickly," Stevenson said.
"I think we're all trying to keep the families safe," said Merri Carlson of First Congregational Church.
Breen didn't say when he would make a decision on the waiver. The town's code is based on the national fire safety code and is stricter than the state code, he said.