Commission douses ideas for fire codes

Proposals from the fire marshal focus on preventing fires associated with young adults.
Tuesday, March 29, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]

Fire Marshal Steve Sapp wants to protect young adults in Columbia from fire by adding more sprinkler systems to nightclubs and Greek houses.

At Monday’s public hearing for fire protection codes, Sapp proposed two amendments to codes related to the installment of sprinkler systems. Both failed to get approval from the Building and Construction Code Commission.

Sapp cited nightclub fires across the nation to make the case that more preventative systems should be added to places catering to young adults, such as nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

In such places, “we have low light situations. We have different types of structures and exits,” Sapp told the commission. “People don’t exit from these buildings very well.”

The International Fire Code prescribes that automatic sprinkler systems be installed in areas greater than 5,000 square feet or with occupancy loads greater than 300 people. The proposal from the Fire Department suggested reducing the requirements to 2,500 square feet and 100 occupants.

“A number of businesses are building around 4,996 square feet to circumvent the code,” Sapp said.

He said the amendment would “increase the conservation dramatically in our community without adding much cost to the construction.”

Brian Connell, Building and Construction Code commissioner, didn’t agree.

“I think it’s an unfair burden to restaurants,” he said.

Connell suggested a separation between restaurants and nightclubs would be necessary to approve such an amendment.

The change in requirements proposed by Sapp was designed to apply to new construction and remodels of current construction.

Another proposal from the Fire Department would have required all fraternity and sorority houses to have sprinklers systems installed by Aug. 1, 2010.

Sapp said the lifestyle of fraternities and sororities made their buildings more vulnerable to fires.

On May 8, 1999, a fire at the Sigma Chi fraternity house on South College Avenue claimed the life of a freshman.

Sapp said the Fire Department has an officer dedicated to inspections and fire prevention for Greek houses, but these houses still violate fire codes on a frequent basis.

“Time and time again we see across the United States that fires cost a loss of lives in fraternities and sororities,” Sapp said.

Some code commissioners said a better definition than fraternity and sorority should be in the amendment.

Meanwhile, creating a board of appeal to review fire codes and related appeals is under discussion among the code commission. City protective inspection officials and the Fire Department proposed to create a fire board in February. If the proposal gets approved by the city council, fire prevention codes, which are reviewed by the Building and Construction Codes Commission, will be submitted to the new fire board instead.

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