Igniting the discussion

City, county, fire department discuss fire code, marshal position

Other action

At its Tuesday meeting, the Craig City Council:

• Granted a hotel and restaurant liquor license to Cugino's, which plans to open its 572 Breeze St. location in April.

• Tabled discussion for changing the penalty procedure for liquor license violations until more information on how other municipalities handle offenses can be found.

• Chose not to sign a letter requesting a 45-day extension to the public comment period for the Bureau of Land Management's Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for oil shale.

Councilors said they felt Moffat County was not really a part of the oil shale conversation since that potential resource is found primarily in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties.

• Approved signing a support letter on behalf of Colorado Northwestern Community College to the Colorado Legislature's Joint Budget Committee for state funding for a proposed academic classroom building in Craig.

• Approved a contract with Armstrong Consultants for $25,000 to provide engineering expertise for the construction of a new Moffat County Regional Airport terminal building.

As put by Craig City Councilor Bill Johnston - who is also Craig Fire/Rescue chief - the idea of a local fire marshal and a uniform fire code entered its infancy Tuesday night.

Last night was the first time all stakeholder agencies, including the city, county, building departments and fire department, got together and discussed the possibility at length.

Whether the idea enters adulthood is still uncertain.

The only certain thing, said Jay Muhme, Steamboat Springs fire marshal, is that if your city is not growing, you don't need a fire marshal.

"If you are going to grow," Muhme said, "you need to get ahead of it."

By all accounts, Craig is growing, at least for the time being.

However, Johnston and City Engineer Bill Earley, who together examine municipal building plans for fire safety, both said there is not an immediate need.

The concern, again, is staying ahead of the need.

"Hopefully, we'll be ahead of the curve, and we don't wait until we're holding up growth because of this," Johnston said.

It took years for Steamboat to finalize a fire code and hire a marshal, Johnston said. It will likely take just as long for Craig and Moffat County, if indeed that is the chosen route.

Johnston and Muhme agreed that a marshal position should not be set up to catch people and fine them.

"Our goal isn't to be a revenue-generating entity out there," Muhme said of his position and team. "Our whole goal is to save lives."

Johnston was blunt about his interpretation of any Craig fire marshal position.

"I am adamantly opposed to hiring a fire Nazi," he said. "We have a lot of small businesses around here that can't afford to come up to code and may not ever be able to afford that."

It took some trial-and-error before Steamboat hired Muhme, he said, who added he approaches his job with common sense.

For example, if he comes to a business that needs extensive repairs or renovations to its sprinkler system, he doesn't tell them when to have the job finished.

"They may not be able to afford it," he said. "They're just trying to make a living like everyone else."

But, he will ask the owner when he or she thinks they can have the funds for that project and asks they sign a letter of intent. With that process, businesses protect their building, employees and customers in a way they can afford.

In 23 years, Muhme said, he has written two warning tickets for overcrowding and taken care of everything else himself. His primary role is to educate property owners on why fire protection, and the specific steps outlined in fire codes, are important and beneficial.

Moffat County Commissioner Saed Tayyara, who said he was playing devil's advocate, questioned whether a fire marshal would duplicate the services of building inspectors, engineers and planning and zoning officials.

As far as the fire code - which the city requires developers conform to if they want to be hooked up to city water and the county has no affiliation with - the code laws are not duplicated anywhere else, Muhme said.

Building codes that cover fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and sprinklers don't cover bonfires, roadway fire truck access or hydrants, he said.

As far as the marshal position, there's no easy answer to that, Muhme said.

"If your comfort level is there, if your people think they can handle the load, then you don't need one," he said. "If they're starting to get behind, then you'll want to look at this."

City, county and fire department officials said they plan to meet with the business community and each other to work out the best solution.

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