Hoping to avoid another tragedy like the apartment fire that killed two people last week or the near-tragedy from carbon monoxide poisoning that was narrowly avoided on Congress Avenue Friday, Havre de Grace’s mayor and city council are forging ahead with an ordinance which would require city residences, businesses, and buildings to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Keith Richard Dowden, 60, and Helen Bernice Logan, 70, both died after a fire broke out in their South Union Avenue apartment early on the morning of October 19. Although outfitted with working battery operated smoke alarms, the home did not have residential fire sprinklers.
A week later, the city is looking to amend the alarm system chapter of the City Code to “require the installation of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors by occupants of buildings in the city.”
“The issue of CO detectors is something I have been working with for several months. I was approached by Chief Scott Hurst of the Susquehanna Hose Company over the summer and he presented a 40 page report on Carbon Monoxide. The report outlined how common CO poisoning is and how many calls various fire companies respond to every year. It got my attention. Havre de Grace is ripe with older housing that burns fossil fuel for heat, stoves, clothes dryer, and water heaters. In fact, there were 3 people yanked out of a home on Congress Ave. Friday night. A birds nest clogged the exhaust pipe of there furnace. The CO levels would have killed them if they were in their house 4 hours longer. A CO alarm saved their life,” Havre de Grace City Council President Bill Martin said Tuesday.
“The origin of this ordinance is not from emotional fallout of what happened on Union Ave. last week. It may seem like it, but it’s been in the works for a while,” Martin clarified.
Martin said the intention is to “require a CO detector in all dwellings that occupants sleep in. That could mean, single family, town homes, apartments, B&B’s etc…I have no intention of going after businesses (unless people sleep in your building).”
City Councilman Jim Miller, who only learned of the proposed ordinance Monday night, didn’t dispute the obvious safety benefits of the detector requirement, he was concerned that the ordinance mandates the purchase and installation of the devices, which he said sell for between $20 and $40 each.
It’s unclear if this cost would be borne by the resident/tenant or landlord, or if the landlord could simply pass the charge through to the tenant, but either way, “somebody has to pay,” Miller said.
Miller, who recently purchased two such detectors for himself, is still weighing the safety value of the ordinance against the extra cost it would create for city residences and businesses.
“I have mixed feeling about it. I purchased the ones I have a couple years ago. Right after the people died in the hotel room in Ocean City. I was in the hotel across the street. I told Bill the Fire Department should look into giving these away like they do smoke detectors,” he added.
Martin agreed and said the city would seek financial assistance to help defray the cost of the detectors.
“I realize that this is a major undertaking and will have a financial impact on citizens. Especially landlords who own many units. You can pick up a battery powered CO detector for around $17-$25. The city will be aggressively pursuing grants that may be available to purchase CO detectors and hopefully have an opportunity to give them away for free,” Martin added.
The proposed smoke and carbon monoxide detector ordinance may be on the city council agenda Monday, November 1 for 1st reading, but Martin said there’s still a chance it could be held back for further tweaking. For one thing, Martin said, “I do not want the phrase ‘commercial’ in the ordinance.”
If the ordinance is introduced on November 1, a public hearing would then most likely be held on November 15, after which the ordinance could be voted upon. If and when it’s approved, the ordinance will go into effect 45 days thereafter.
The proposed ordinance, as currently written, reads “any person that occupies a building as a resident, either as owner occupied, or as a tenant, or as a commercial user of the building, shall install and keep operational an alarm system.”
The penalty for failure to comply with the ordinance would be a fine of $10 per day until an operational alarm system is installed.
Here is the proposed legislation in its current draft:
Ordinance No. _____
MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF
HAVRE DE GRACE
AN ORDINANCE AMENDING CITY CODE CHAPTER 9 ALARM SYSTEMS SECTIONS 9-1; 9-2, 9-3; 9-5; 9-6; 9-7; 9-8; 9-9; 9-10; and 9-11 BY ADDING CERTAIN LANGUAGE TO REQUIRE THE INSTALLATION OF SMOKE DETECTORS AND CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS BY OCCUPANTS OF BUILDINGS IN THE CITY.
WHEREAS, the Mayor and City Council currently have an ordinance contained in Havre de Grace City Code Chapter 9 Alarm Systems, which addresses false alarms; and
WHEREAS, the Mayor and City Council have determined that in order to protect the life, health, and welfare of the citizens of Havre de Grace, that in addition to being concerned with false alarms, the occupants of buildings in Havre de Grace should be required to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
NOW THEREFORE, the Mayor and City Council of Havre de Grace makes the following amendments to the Havre de Grace City Code Chapter 9 as follows:
1. The existing language in the Havre de Grace City Code Chapter 9 in sections 9-1; 9-2; 9-3; 9-5; 9-6; 9-7; 9-8; 9-9; 9-10; and 9-11 is hereby amended with new language in bold face and capital letters and the deleted language in bold face and underlined as follows:
It is the DUAL purpose of this chapter to promote and protect the health, safety and general welfare of the City by providing for the regulation of false alarms from automatic fire alarm systems which currently reduce the fire-fighting capacity available for answering legitimate fire calls in the City of Havre de Grace AND TO SET FORTH THE ALARM SYSTEMS REQUIRED TO BE IN SERVICE IN ALL RESIDENCES AND COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS IN THE CITY.
For the purpose of this chapter, the following terms, phrases, words, and their derivations shall have the meaning given herein. When not inconsistent with the context, words used in the present tense include the future, words in the plural include the singular, and words in the singular include the plural. The word “shall” is mandatory and not merely directory.
A. An automatic alarm system THAT DETECTS SMOKE AND CARBON MONOXIDE; and
B. A system of manual fire alarm stations that produces an audible signal when activated.
ALARM SYSTEM CONTRACTOR – A person who installs, maintains, monitors, alters, or services alarm systems. This does not include a person who sells or manufactures alarm systems unless that person installs, monitors, alters, or services alarm systems.
ALARM USER – The person who occupies a building, structure, or facility in which an alarm system is REQUIRED AND operational, AS OPPOSED TO A MERE OWNER OF THE PROPERTY. AN ALARM USER CAN BE A TENANT.
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND PLANNING– The Department of Economic Development and Planning of the City of Havre de Grace , Maryland .
FALSE ALARM – The activation of an alarm system that causes a response from the Susquehanna Hose Co., Inc. regardless of the cause that is not in response to an actual emergency. This includes:
A. A negligently or accidently activated alarm signal; and
B. An alarm signal activated as the result of a faulty, malfunctioning, or improperly installed, located, or maintained alarm system.
This does not include: –
A. An alarm signal activated by unusually severe weather conditions, or other causes beyond the control of the alarm system contractor or alarm user; or
B. An alarm signal activated during the initial period of 60 calendar days after an alarm system is installed.
PERSON – Any person, firm, partnership association, company, corporation, or organization of any kind.
9-3. False Alarms.
When an alarm system is responsible for a false alarm, the Department of Economic Development and Planning, upon written request from the Susquehanna Hose Co., Inc., shall issue a citation for a municipal infraction to the alarm user if the alarm system has been responsible for:
A. Three or more false alarms in the previous 30 calendar days; or
B. Five or more false alarms in the previous 12 months.
9-4. Municipal infraction for false alarms.
The municipal infraction penalty for a false alarm violation shall be a fine of $50 for the first offense; and $100 for any subsequent offense.
9-5. Defective alarm systems OR ABSENCE OF ALARM SYSTEMS.
An alarm system is defective if it is responsible for:
A. More than three false alarms in a period of 30 calendar days; or
B. More than five false alarms in a period of 12 months as the result of an alarm signal activated by a faulty, malfunctioning, or improperly installed, located, or maintained alarm system.
ANY PERSON THAT OCCUPIES A BUILDING AS A RESIDENT, EITHER AS OWNER OCCUPIED, OR AS A TENANT, OR AS A COMMERCIAL USER OF THE BUILDING, SHALL INSTALL AND KEEP OPERATIONAL AN ALARM SYSTEM.
9-6. Notification of defective alarm systems OR ABSENCE OF ALARM SYSTEMS.
The Department of Economic Development and Planning, upon notification by the Susquehanna Hose Co., Inc. shall provide written notice by certified mail to the alarm user of a defective alarm system OR THE ABSENSE OF AN ALARM SYSTEM within one working day.
9-7. Corrective actions for defective alarm system OR THE ABSENCE OF AN ALARM SYSTEM.
Upon receiving notice of a defective alarm system OR THE ABSENCE OF AN ALARM SYSTEM, the alarm user shall:
A. Have the alarm system inspected OR INSTALLED by an alarm system contractor within 30 calendar days of receiving the notice; and
B. File a written report with the Department of Economic Development and Planning within 15 calendar days after the inspection OR THE INSTALLATION.
9-8. Report of defective alarm systems.
The written report submitted to the Department of Economic Development and Planning shall contain:
A. The result of the inspection;
B. A description of the probable cause of the false alarms: and
C. A description of all actions taken to prevent future false alarms.
D. THE TYPE OF ALARM SYSTEMS INSTALLED.
9-9. Municipal infractions for defective alarm systems OR ABSENCE OF ALARM SYSTEMS.
A. The Department of Economic Development and Planning shall issue a citation to an alarm user who continues to use a defective alarm system after being notified that the system is defective OR ABSENT and fails to TIMELY comply with the corrective actions as set forth in 9-7 OR WHO CONTINUES TO OCCUPY OR USE THE BUILDING WITHOUT INSTALLING THE ALARM SYSTEM.
B. The penalty for using a defective alarm system shall be $200. Each day a violation continues shall be a separate offense. THE PENALTY FOR FAILING TO INSTALL AN ALARM SYSTEM SHALL BE $10.00 PER DAY WHICH FINE SHALL BE ABATED BY PRESENTATION OF AN INVOICE REFLECTING THE PURCHASE AND INSTALLATION OF THE ALARM SYSTEM.
9-10. Notice of service to alarm system.
An alarm system contractor shall notify the Department of Economic Development and Planning and the Harford County Emergency Operations Division by telephone prior to servicing an alarm system.
9-11. Municipal infractions for failure to provide notice.
A. The Department of Economic Development and Planning shall issue a citation to an alarm system contractor who violates 9-10, while the contractor is servicing an alarm system, if the system is responsible for a false alarm.
B. The municipal infraction penalty for failing to provide notice of service shall be a fine of $50 for the first offense; and $100 for any subsequent offense.
BE IT FURTHER ENACTED AND ORDAINED that the ordinance shall take effect 45 days after the date of its passage.
__________________________________ __________________________________ Carol Mathis, Director of Administration Wayne H. Dougherty, Mayor
First Reading : ______
Public Hearing: ______
Second Reading & Possible Adoption: ______
Isnt this rather late? Why wasn’t this required years ago? Smoke detectors and CO detectors are not new inventions. They should have been required a long time ago. Might have saved more than a few lives.
john mcmichael says
The issue of fire safety for rental has been an issue betweem myself and city hall since last May. When I raised the issue with the local building inspector and code enforcement they refused to contact me. I went as far as trying to get and finally after repeated calls did get an appointment with the Mayor they did not realy want to address the issues of concern. Just be patient I was told by the Mayor we already lost a hearing with a landlord and I can not justify the cost to the taxpayers.
I informed the Mayor that this town was putting peoples lives at risk and nothing was done. Today I morn the lost lives in this city. The very town that I was born in and to date nothing has happened. I own my own home for that I am greatful. For those on fixed income or rent I am truly sorry for I feel as though I should have done more. I relize City Hall is more intrested in business than its people.
Ask your self, is this about public safety or a way to increase the number of calls SHCO runs? More calls+More $$$$$
Some Guy says
You sir, do have a point.
Providing and installing the detectors is one thing, getting people to CHANGE them thats another story. Can lead a camel to water….cant make em drink it. Need the Mayor and Council to oust teh Chief of Police first
Providing and installing the detectors is one thing, getting people to CHANGE them thats another story. Can lead a camel to water….cant make em drink it. Need the Mayor and Council to oust the Chief of Police first
I am not sure how this could be enforced. I think public awareness NOT just in Havre de Grace but through-out Harford County would be a better approach. Maybe offering free Smoke Detectors door to door. These detectors can be subsidised by local businesses and possible grants from the State or Federal Government. Its hard to expect this from our great men and women who are volunteering valuable time to actual emergencies however. Scout troops and other organizations could jump in on the awareness issue and even passing out information door to door.
Oh Lordy says
This should be a no Brainer: Also you set up that darn rental thing a few years back” Oh I forgot the landlords don’t have to provide this? Or was the city inspector asleep at the helm??
Baltimore City has been handing out free smoke detectors for years, and time after time, they find an unactivated one in a burned out shell of a house during an fire investigation. Everyone is under the attitude that it can’t happen to them. Well, it can, and if you ask the relatives of recent fire victims, they’ll tell you that is just what they thought, too.
My smoke detectors are hard wired into my house; and are checked during the daylight savings time twice a year. Working for a security/fire alarm installer has opened my eyes to what can happen . .and I’ve made it MY responsibility to keep my family safe.
Unfortunately, some folks think that it’s too much trouble to check the battery of a smoke alarm, untiil it’s too late.