Uniform fire code debated

Rural fire protection districts looking for consistency

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— Routt County's rural fire districts are looking at adopting some form of the Uniform Fire Code an internationally set standard that would allow them to deal with safety issues sometimes ignored by people building in rural areas.

Some of the biggest issues that worry the fire chiefs in rural areas are the lack of access caused by narrow roads and road grade; water supply; and wildland urban interface, which deals with wildfire issues.

If a uniform fire code is adopted, it would affect new development, not existing homes.

The rural fire districts looking to adopt a uniform fire code are the West Routt Fire Protection District, Oak Creek Fire Protection District, Yampa Fire Protection District and the North Routt Fire Protection District.

The Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District, which governs the rural areas just outside of Steamboat, adopted a uniform fire code Feb. 7.

"From now on, when someone comes in to the planning department and wants to subdivide their ranch, we will make sure the roads are wide enough and there's room to turn so the fire department vehicles can negotiate turns," said City Fire Marshal Jay Muhme, citing an example of how the fire code is enforced at the planning level.

The incorporated cities such as Steamboat, Oak Creek, Yampa and Hayden already have fire codes.

The fire districts have been trying to come up with a uniform fire code for several years but have bickered over some of the rules. For example, board members of the West Routt Fire Protection District balked at the 10-foot roadway rule.

For example, the uniform fire code in the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District requires a 10-foot wide roadway for its trucks.

The other fire districts are looking at adopting the same uniform fire code. West Routt Fire Chief Bryan Rickman said the fire code gives the fire chiefs some leeway in dealing with such issues.

"If someone was going to build a house and only wanted to build an eight-foot road, there's a possibility we'd say, 'You put in a sprinkler system and you can build an eight-foot road,'" Rickman said.

"There's some give and take there."

Rickman made it clear that the standards set forth in the uniform fire code by the International Fire Code Institute may or may not be enforced by local fire chiefs.

What Rickman and other fire chiefs want is continuity for the entire county, so the districts need to agree on which rules will be enforced and which won't.

The rural fire districts are looking at excluding some of the uniform fire code rules like requiring permits for candles used in commercial buildings. They also might exclude requiring permits for Christmas trees at businesses.

Rickman said it is important for everyone in the county to be on the same page.

"If we all adopt the same regulations countywide, everyone will meet the same requirements," Rickman said.

"They wont' go off and build where it's least restrictive."

Even if all the fire districts agree on a uniform fire code, the boards governing those fire stations must figure out how they are going to pay for a new fire inspector to do the work. Rickman said the four fire districts and Routt County government are looking for ways to come up with $85,000 to enforce the fire code each year.

"We've got to know if the districts are going to buy into it," Rickman said.

"If they're not, it's no use going any further."

Other rules that might affect rural homeowners include mandatory water supplies for fire trucks.

For example, a homeowner might be required to develop dry hydrants on bridges, ponds or wells.

"It's a pipe that goes into a water supply we can hook on to and pump out of," Rickman explained.

Homeowners might also be required to clear a safe zone around their homes to help prevent wildfires from engulfing their homes.

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