The Independence City Council voted Monday to amend several areas of the city fire code, which some local architects had said was too restrictive, to match with the international fire code in requiring sprinkler systems for certain square footage.
The changes came against the urging of firefighting personnel. Fire Chief John Greene and Battalion Chief Cindy Culp had argued to keep the requirement of sprinkler systems for structures greater than 5,000 square feet – compared to the international fire code requirements of structure groups greater than 12,000 feet – during a council meeting late February about the issue.
Architects Roy Brown and Jim Gamble had proposed the changes at the same meeting, saying that Independence's more restrictive fire code had deterred potential development or redevelopment projects in the city, including some vacant buildings.
“I think there must be a balance between convenience and cost and safety,” Gamble said. “All of us make those choices. I believe the international code is a model code.”
“Smaller projects, sometimes when you have to fire suppress with sprinkler, the costs can be astounding,” Brown said, recalling one client who had all the drawings approved but couldn't pull the trigger on the project because the sprinklers made if cost prohibitive.
City Council members Curt Dougherty, Karen DeLuccie, Scott Roberson and Tom Van Camp voted for the ordinance to amend the fire code, which also changed the maximum distance from buildings to off-site fire hydrants from 150 to the international code's 400 feet.
John Perkins and Mayor Eileen Weir voted against the change, and Council Member Chris Whiting was absent.
Kirk Stobart, president of IAFF Local 781, had urged the council Monday to vote against the changes, saying he still sees plenty of development and that changes would appease just a couple people. An ordinary person wouldn't try to advise against an expert in their particular subject,
“I agree with everything they say,” Stobart said of his chiefs. “Our fire chief is an expert at this. He's told you this is a bad idea.”
If the city wanted to change the fire code, he said, than perhaps it should also comply with advised personnel figures, which would be more costly. At the very least, he implored the council to table the ordinance for further discussion.
Greene said the city's more-restrictive amendment was put in place in 2000 was because the number of fire stations, fire trucks, firefighters hadn't changed since 1987.
“Nothing's changed for that part, and the city's grown,” Greene said, noting some other cities that passed even more stringent codes since then. “We can't put enough firefighters on the corner to save these buildings if they're not fire-suppressed.”
“Empty, vacant buildings that burned do not bring money into the city.”
The 5,000-square-foot code, he said, “Saves money, saves property and it saves lives.”
One group of buildings that remain at 5,000 feet are restaurants, banquet halls and bars. As an alternative, those between 5,000 and 15,000 square feet can have fire barriers to divide the structure. Previously the code called for fire walls, which extend beyond the exterior wall.
Brown said he believed fire barriers “Would be a better way to achieve the same end.”