Fire recalls need for fire code, marshal |

Fire recalls need for fire code, marshal

Collin Smith

— A fire marshal could not have prevented the Country Mall fire, Byron Willems said.

However, that building’s condition before Sunday illustrates why a fire marshal would benefit the area, he added.

Willems is active on the issue as a Craig City Councilman, owner of Craig Fire and Safety and president of the Craig Rural Fire Protection District board.

Along with the Country Mall’s additions, developers never installed fire stops to contain potential outbreaks, or sprinkler systems to stop a fire before it spread.

“That fire happened because it was a very old building,” Willems said. “This large of a fire loss – this is the largest in town history square footage-wise – brings to the forefront the question, ‘Why don’t we have a uniform fire code and a fire marshal to enforce it?'”

Older buildings likely would not be subject to a new fire code, which is why Willems believes a marshal would not have prevented a fire at the Country Mall.

The mall, though, represents a cross-town issue: buildings without sprinkler systems, without usable escape plans, many likely without tested fire extinguishers, Willems said.

That is the state today because the city never adopted a uniform fire code, said Chris Nichols, who is retiring as Craig Fire/Rescue chief Dec. 1.

“In my tenure as chief, the Fire Department tried coordinating with the Craig Building Department on all new construction coming to town,” Nichols said. “But when it comes down to asking new developers to include certain safety measures, we had no teeth unless it was written in the (city’s) uniform building code.”

The Building Department is responsible for inspections at construction sites, and its officials will tell a developer to put in fire stops or other measures where appropriate, Willems said.

However, because there is not a city fire code, it’s left to the developers to put them in.

Willems does not recommend adopting a code without an enforcer, which is why the code and the marshal go hand-in-hand.

“A law with no enforcement is a waste,” Willems said.

Normal building inspectors are operating at their limit with the amount of new construction in the city, Willems said.

As well, a fire inspector needs some background in fire safety just like building inspectors need some background in engineering.

In Willems’ estimation, funding is the only reason a fire marshal has not been appointed.

“Personally, I think a joint venture between the city, the fire district and the county could work,” he said. “The fire district would be the logical choice to administer that position because it has the experience. The city and county would provide the bulk of the salary and the benefits.”

Willems believes funding is there, it’s a matter of bringing those three entities to the same table and hashing out the details.

“If everybody came willing to work, we’d probably get it done,” Willems said. “Everybody has a little bit left in their budget all the time. If it’s important enough, you’ll find (the money).”

With the way Craig is growing, now is the time to step in with a fire code and an enforcer to make sure it happens, Nichols said.

“Growth is good,” Nichols said, “but it has to be safe for the citizens of Craig.”

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