Revision May Undo Rule On Child-proof Window Screens

November 13, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Staff writer

When a child died after falling from a town house bedroom window in 1982, the County Council enacted a law requiring "child-proof" screens on windows more than 3 feet above ground level.

Under a proposedrevision to the county's building code, David M. Hammerman, the chief of the county's inspections and permits department, is requesting elimination of the "child-proof" screen provision, citing fire safety reasons.

Hammerman said the law requiring residential window screens to besecurely fastened is unique nationally and conflicts with the national model building code, which "requires windows be easily opened without a special tool by an occupant in event of escape, rescue and ventilation in case of a fire."

The building code revisions, already introduced, will be subject to a public hearing by the council Monday.

Delegate Virginia Thomas, D-Howard, was a member of the council that passed the law and recalls that council members were sympathetic because of the child's death.

"The law was passed because it was apreventive measure to save the lives of children," she said.

Eliminating the law could prove controversial.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray said he sees a need for the law.

"In case of fire, you can break through a screen. There has to be a better rationale for eliminating it. The law is there to protect youngsters," he said.

Hammerman said that the need for easy exit through windows "is essential if an occupant is alerted to smoke in the house by a smoke detector and can't leave by the doors. We don't want the occupants to wait until the firefighters arrive to get out safely."

Another problem withthe existing law, he said, is that there are "no national standards to determine if screens are in compliance. What we have is a law thatwas a reaction to a local catastrophic incident, and Howard County is the only jurisdiction I know of in the nation with a child-resistant screen law."

Hammerman said another building code change pendingbefore the council would eliminate the use of fire-retardant treated

wood sheathing in the roofs of new town houses. The sheathing is placed under tar paper and shingles.

He said the change is requested because the sheathing degrades over time. Also, he said, the stateis requiring all new town houses to have sprinkler systems starting July 1, "so the fire-retardant wood sheathing is not needed and wouldonly add to the cost of house construction."

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