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City Council expected to approve various fire code changes

August 03, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

City fire officials have proposed a number of changes to the city's fire code, including provisions to add dozens of fines as well as create a permit process for some fireworks sales.

The Hagerstown City Council gave preliminary approval to the changes at its Tuesday work session. The changes are expected to be voted on at the city's regular meeting later this month.

The most notable changes are a set of 174 municipal infractions, some of which revise current infractions but most of which are new, City Fire Marshal Charles T. "Tom" Brown said before the meeting.

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The last time the city updated its fire codes was in 1995, according to a city document, and the new changes reflect increasing fire protection technology, Brown said.

Brown said those who are in compliance with fire codes shouldn't be concerned, because the proposed changes don't actually add new infractions but rather localize a number of State Fire Code infractions.

The city fire code additions would make it easier to issue municipal citations, which are either $250 or $500, depending on the specific violation.

"It expedites the process," Brown said. "The goal is to get the problems fixed as promptly as possible."

While first-time offenders would not likely be cited, it will be easier to fine repeat violators because the city will not have to go through the lengthier criminal process to enforce the rules, Brown said.

The majority of buildings that would be affected by the proposed infraction schedule would be multi-family homes, apartments, businesses, hotels, health-care facilities, industrial sites and warehouses.

Single-family homes generally only need to meet fire alarm requirements, Brown said.

It is expected that the fines, as well as other proposed changes, will increase the fire department's revenues, but it is not clear by how much, Brown said.

The municipal infractions would regulate such things as building exits, fire alarm systems, sprinkler systems, exterior vegetation and hazardous material storage and disposal.

The other major change to the fire code would be regarding ground-based sparkling devices, often referred to as fountains. The State Fire Marshal's Office recently legalized ground-based sparklers, but regulating their use has been difficult locally, Brown said.

Brown said inspections by his office can take up to three hours, and there are multiple places in the city that sell such types of fireworks around the July Fourth holiday, including grocery stores, department stores and temporary tents.

The city would create a 60-day permit for the sale of ground-based sparklers under a code change, including a $250 fee. A violation of the code could result in a $500 fine.

There are several other changes in the proposals:

  • Assembly occupancy permits, while they are generally posted in most establishments, are not currently required to be posted. Under the proposals, the permits - as well as a sign with the maximum permitted capacity - would have to be posted.

  • The proposals aim to clarify to whom the responsibility of adhering to assembly occupancy permits falls.

  • Blasting permit fees would increase from $20 to $40.
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