New fire code nears adoption

Fourth and final draft expected to be approved next month

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published September 23, 2015


CLAWSON — Elected officials expect to approve a new fire code next month after going back and forth on proposed changes since July.

“We’ll get it eventually,” said City Councilman Gregory Kucera.

Council was asked to adopt the 2012 International Fire Code, presented by Fire Chief Richard Dylewski, during its July 7 meeting, but questions arose about changes requiring businesses to purchase and install lockbox systems and rules governing residential fire pits.

Dylewski said that adopting the document would bring Clawson’s existing fire code, which dates back to 1996, in line with the 2012 International Fire Code.

“It brings us more in line with the building code — that’s the state building code that has been adopted,” Dylewski said. “There has been a lot of changes over the years in the life-safety codes that this would bring us up to a point where we could certainly ensure the safety of our residents, our business owners and the patrons of those establishments.”

In the third iteration presented to council for second reading Sept. 15, revisions were made to the original fire code to state that purchasing and installing a Knox-Box on the exterior of a Clawson business would be optional and not a mandatory requirement as initially proposed. The reason primarily was cost.

“Our concerns were making the lockbox an elective item versus a mandatory requirement for businesses for $300,” said Mayor Penny Luebs.

Dylewski said the cost for a Knox-Box begins at about $300 and increases depending on the model. About seven businesses participate in the city’s Knox-Box Rapid Entry program.

Dylewski said that with a lockbox, firefighters can be in and out of a building in 10 minutes instead of waiting for a keyholder or causing entry damage in an emergency situation. He added that fire doubles in size every 30 seconds and that being able to find a fire in the beginning stages makes it easier to control and extinguish.

City Attorney Jon Kingsepp said that with the amendment to the 2012 International Fire Code, the necessity of installing the lockbox shall be the option of the business owner, and the decision not to install the lockbox shall not create liability to the city.

“That’s fine if they make that decision; they assume all liability. We don’t,” Kingsepp said.

Councilman Jim Horton was absent from the Sept. 15 meeting, but he supports the installation of lockboxes.

“It’s really for the purposes of saving from having to force entry, and if there is anything that they need to get into the building for, they can do that,” he said as a 27-year veteran of the Clawson Fire Department.

Although council members were pleased to see the lockbox system change in the proposed code, they were still looking for changes in the document regarding residential fire pits. The absence of those changes sent the document back to the city administration.

The new code states that residential fire pits must be at least 15 feet from any structure and would decrease the size of a fire pit to 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high.

The current city ordinance for ground fires states that ground fires may be 4 feet in diameter, 8 inches high, located no closer than 10 feet to a structure and no closer than 18 feet from a boundary or property line.

Dylewski said  the smaller and deeper the fire pit, combined with greater distance from a structure and combustible items, would provide an increased safe zone. It would provide greater protection from radiated heat and flying embers that may potentially start other combustible items on fire.

Council members were fine with requiring a 15-foot distance; however, they were not sure that making the size of a pit smaller would produce any noticeable changes. The majority thought it would be hard to enforce, since the new code would not be retroactive.

“If someone is going to put a new fire pit in, the requirements of the code would be what they’re required to do,” said City Manager Mark Pollack.

Pollack said the code would be issued to those seeking permits for pits following approval of the new code.

“If you have an existing pit, you wouldn’t have to change it. You wouldn’t have to alter it,” he said.

Kucera said changing the size wouldn’t change the amount of smoke, which usually is what causes a problem for residents. He also said that changing the size would be an enforcement problem because officers wouldn’t know when a pit was installed.

Councilwoman Deborah Wooley agreed that the same issues would be present with changing the size, and she felt that the 3-foot rule was an arbitrary size.

“I’m not opposed to it; I just don’t know why this number was selected,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Howie Airriess was in the minority on the issue. He said he was fine with reducing the size of fire pits.

“Shrinking the size of the fire pit, that’s a good thing in my book because some people just don’t know how to burn properly,” he said.

Pollock said that regardless of the size, he hopes residents would be mindful of those around them with breathing issues.

“We do count on neighbors to be neighborly,” he said.

City staff will update the fire code to reflect the majority opinions voiced during the September meeting to bring back for final approval in October.

Adopting the new fire code first came before the council on July 7 when the issue was tabled. The council revisited the topic for first reading of the ordinance on Sept. 1, followed by a second reading on Sept. 15. Adoption is expected next month at either the Oct. 6 or Oct. 20 meeting.