County zoning board reviews fire flow rules
The issue of what type of water flow from a culinary system is required to fight a house fire came nder discussion at the Carbon County Planning and Zoning Board meeting last week. The matter did not involve a specific subdivision or development, but overall standards for the county.
"The first time we really dealt with this was when the Aspen Cove subdivision went in near Scofield Reservoir," explained county planning director Dave Levanger. "The problem we have had is that the many of the codes vary."
"The state requires 20 psi pressure, but the plumbing code only requires 15 psi. It has been a problem trying to determine exactly what should be the requirement," added the county planning director.
The conflicting pressure regulations are also compounded by other factors, laws and development codes, particularly when the system a structure is operating on is a self contained well or spring. Levanger passed out a document pointing out many of the discrepancies and problems for the county commission to consider.
"One of the big discrepancies has to do with the quantities of water needed to fight a fire," stated Levanger.
The confusion about the issues have caused numerous problems for the commission and planning officials
Particularly with mountain developments, residents have often had to obtain letters of approval from fire officials indicating that the system to be installed would be adequate to supply the water needed to fight a fire.
The situation has led to conflict about what the codes man date, what the fire fighting standards require and what the county's development guidelines specify.
"After talking to various fire chiefs from the area, they have told me that - if a fire can't be put out with 150 to 250 gallons of water - the structure is so engulfed that it will be a total loss," indicated Levanger. "However, they are concerned about the amount of water they might need to protect adjacent structures."
After evaluating all the data and codes, the planning board members eventually approved the Aspen Cove Subdivision on the basis of the development's system having adequate water to fight a fire for two hours with 200 gallons per minute.
But Levanger pointed out that the county needs to implement local guidelines to ensure that the adoption of water systems will be uniform.
"What we need to do is to adopt a standard that is reasonable," explained the county planning director.
During the meeting, different amounts of water that would be adequate were brought up by people on the board who have been involved in fire fighting during the years.
One of the highest amounts of water brought up by board members was a supply of 1,000 gallons per minute. The 1,000 gallons per minute complies with the international fire fighting code.
"I doubt there is a place in Carbon County where you can get 1,000 gallons per minute," indicated Commissioner Mike Milovich, who sits on the planning and zoning board. "In fact, I think it would be difficult to find that in most places."
Pressure standards for fighting fires also varies significantly from area to area, not only because of supplies and systems, but due to the fact that the requirements for various types of structures are much different.
In larger cities and metropolitan locations, the pressure has to be higher. Considerably more pressure is required to send water into skyscrapers to fight a fire than it does for a two story house.
But extinguishing a fire in double story home can be a problem in an area with very low water pressure.
Planning board chairman and local insurance businessman Richard Tatton pointed out that he sees all types of different ratings for fire protection, depending on where the structure is located, how close it is to other buildings and how far away fire departments are located.
"The fact is that recreational property has a different expectation for fire protection than, say a home in Spring Glen would," explained Levanger. "Maybe we ought to look at different standards for that type of property and another for rural residential."
Because of different considerations, the county planning director noted that other types of property like coal mining operations, gas wells and commercial facilities may need various kinds of requirements as well.
Perhaps individual situations should be left to the fire chiefs to approve or disapprove, noted planning board member Lynna Topolovec.
"I just think it's a call for the fire departments," stated Topolovec. "They know what it takes to put a fire out."
The planning commission will continue to explore the options on the issue and will look at some standards that could be applied county-wide or to specific instances.