WESTMINSTER — Linda Frazier and sister-in-law Shirley Singleton have suffered their share of family tragedies.
Frazier, 38, lost a 2-year-old brother in a house fire before she was born. Singleton's husband, Bill, suffered brain damage in a car accident 12 years ago and is confined to a wheelchair.
They say that their new houses, built side by side on Allen Way in the Chazadale North subdivision near Westminster, were equipped with defective chimneys -- a situation they fear could produce another tragedy.
After several inspections by county building inspectors and meetings with the county commissioners, George and Linda Frazier obtained an order requiring their homebuilder to tear down the chimney and construct a new one at his expense because it violated standards.
But subsequent efforts by the families to obtain a similar order for the Singletons' chimney have not achieved the same result. The families have sent the 3-month-old dispute with the county over the Singleton chimney to the Carroll state's attorney for an investigation into the county's enforcement of its building code.
The case also is set for a public hearing 1 p.m. Thursday before the commissioners. The building contractor, Teri Construction & Remodeling Inc. of Westminster, has appealed the latest order from the county inspector.
Teri Construction contracted with different masons to build the chimneys.
The case has involved building inspectors, attorneys, a state senator, chimney sweeps and several building construction experts representing national associations, who have offered varying interpretations of the code and how it should be enforced.
George Frazier, Shirley's brother, says the ordeal, beginning with his house and now the Singletons', has caused him to miss work, lose sleep and require medication for stress.
"A person shouldn't have to go through what we have," he said. "We should be able to go to the code officials and get answers and not have to go up the ladder to the state's attorney,senators or the commissioners."
The Fraziers contend that the Singletons have not been afforded the same treatment from the county as they were. The families say they are doggedly pursuing the matter because they don't want to take even the slightest chance that a faulty chimney could cause another tragedy, especially because Bill Singleton is virtually immobile.
"I went through pure hell when Bill got hurt," Shirley said. "I couldn't go through it again if there was a fire and I lost somebody."
The Singletons have two children, Stacey,16, and Bill Jr., 11.
County officials say that the Singleton case is different from the Frazier case and that the two should not be compared. The Fraziers say construction problems at the Singletons' are more severe and charge that the county hasn't properly enforced thebuilding code.
Upon a second inspection of the Singletons' chimney Aug. 26, the county code official instructed Teri Construction to remove several bricks from the chimney to see if creosote -- the gaseous byproduct of burning wood -- is seeping outside the inner flue liner and if the air space between the liner and the brick is too great.Both conditions could help cause fires, depending on the degree to which they deviate from acceptable standards.
However, slight variations from the code, whose standards are designed to reduce chances for mishap to virtually nil, do not necessarily constitute safety problems, said Ralph E. Green, a county code official. The Fraziers say they believe the code provides "minimum protections." Depending on thecode official's findings once the bricks are removed, Teri Construction could be ordered to rebuild the chimney.
Charles J. Pusateri Sr., president of Teri Construction, appealed Green's order. He says that the county is applying the code more strictly on the Singletons' chimney than on most chimneys constructed in the county. He also saysthe homeowners were negligent because they improperly installed and used a fireplace insert.
"We have no problem with fixing anything we have done wrong," he said in a statement. "We have always tried tobe fair and stand behind anything we have done."
Linda Frazier worked as a secretary for Pusateri for more than four years. She left that job last year by "mutual agreement," he said, and the deals to construct both houses were made prior to her leaving.