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Freshly cut trees to be allowed in some public buildings

November 25, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

For the first time in 30 years, fresh cut Christmas trees will be allowed in some Maryland buildings this holiday season.

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But after the cheers die down, state fire officials hope all precautions will be followed to the letter to avoid any problems.

"There are a million 'what ifs' possible and we are bracing," said Allen Gosnell, public information officer for the Maryland State Fire Marshal's office.

The new rules allowing live, cut trees only apply to businesses, hotels, motels, dormitories, and places of public assembly such as churches, Gosnell said.

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And approved electric lights can be used on those trees - another first, Gosnell said.

Still considered prohibited places for live trees are nursing homes, hospitals, limited care facilities, detention and correctional facilities, schools, day-care centers (unless in private homes) and residential board and care facilities (unless sprinklers are installed throughout).

Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown said his office is going to enforce the new rules.

"But I'm not comfortable with this regulation," Brown said.

With a staff of three full-time fire marshals, Brown said there is no way all businesses, places of public assembly and others can be canvassed.

"We plan to check if we get complaints," Brown said. And he added that his staff will be on the lookout for tree violations when they are doing routine building inspections.

Brown's biggest concerns are trees blocking exits or located too close to heat sources. If violations are found, trees will be moved or removed.

The live, cut tree rules are extensive.

* Only blue spruce, Scotch pine or Douglas fir trees are permitted.

* Fresh cut trees - 10 feet tall or under - must be cut in the presence of the user and must possess a special tag provided by the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

"That pretty much eliminates the use of out-of-state trees in public places," Gosnell said.

A fresh cut tree may only be displayed for 21 days and must be placed within two days of the original cutting. A new cut is required at the time it is put on display and at least two gallons of water must be in the container at all times.

Live, balled trees need not be tagged by growers.

The state fire marshal or a local fire prevention bureau may order the removal of any tree from any building if it is believed the tree poses a hazard.

It is that part of the new regulation that Brown plans to refer to if he finds a violation.

For more information on the new regulations, call 1-800-525-3124 or 1-410-875-5450.

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