Public Safety Committee, fire codes part III, Oct. 21, 2013

FINALEXITHomewood Fire Chief John Bresnan on Monday said he would drop his campaign to strengthen the city’s fire codes until regulators finish their yearly evaluation of fire safety and local code enforcement. The Public Safety Committee agreed, and will send their recommendation to the City Council on Monday.

Bresnan has been lobbying for stricter codes — particularly those requiring automatic sprinklers in large buildings–ever since the city council eliminated tougher standards that a previous council had tacked on to the 2009 International Building Code.  In a maneuver to pacify businesses complaining of the costs of furnishing sprinklers, the council in August re-adopted the 2009 code, but without the additional amendments. Bresnan responded by laying out a list of new amendments he said would address cost concerns but still provide a level of fire safety he wanted for the city and its firefighters. That list included requiring sprinklers for residential institutions such as dormitories and motels; removing the option for a business to remove or deactivate a sprinkler system; and requiring existing buildings of 10,000 square feet or larger to install sprinklers to new construction standards if substantial renovations are made.

Council members had debated the matter with no result through two full-council work sessions before referring the matter to this committee.

But Bresnan told the committee he now recommends dropping the matter until the city gets the results of an Insurance Services Office (ISO) evaluation. (The city currently has an ISO rating of 2, the second highest best possible, and one which some home insurers might use to set lower local premiums.) Bresnan said the evaluators will no doubt also recommend updating to the 2012 or 2015 code, due to be published soon, which may address some of his concerns about sprinkling large buildings. For the time being, the un-amended 2009 code is in force.

Committee chairman Patrick McClusky said everyone was in agreement to wait. However, Jim Wyatt, the city’s planning director, would seek “immediate consideration” to adopt the new codes when the ISO recommendation came, he said.

The fire code became an issue when certain businesses, including Southpace Properties and Barber Companies, were considering renovations that would have triggered a costly requirement to upgrade to automatic sprinklers.

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