Fire Marshal's Office Says No Follow-up Required On Store

Furniture Business Was Cited For Violations

November 20, 1991|By Ed McDonough and Greg Tasker | Ed McDonough and Greg Tasker,Staff writers

WESTMINSTER — The state Fire Marshal's Office said its policy did not require a return visit after finding several code violations in July at the furniture store that sparked Sunday night's West Main Street blaze.

Thefire marshal had cited William Stem, owner of Stem's Used Furniture and Appliances at 16 W. Main St. for several violations, including refinishing furniture in a workroom that was not fireproof, lacked ventilation and had improper storage facilities, Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Bob Thomas said.

Additionally, Thomas said Stem was ordered to install explosion-proof motors on all power equipment in the shop.

Thomas said Stem was sent a letter July 23 ordering him to stop using the workshop immediately. Stem was instructed to send in a plan to bring the workshop up to code before making repairs, but Thomas said no plan was received.

The fire marshal said because no plan was submitted, his officebelieved Stem was no longer using the work room to strip and refinish furniture.

"We didn't have to follow up after the letter," Thomas said yesterday.

"He was ordered not to do any more (stripping orfinishing) work. The fire marshal has no responsibility once we identify what the problem is and how to correct it" unless another complaint is filed. The spokesman added the state attorney general has saidsuch a policy is legal.

"If we go out today and inspect a building, there's no absolute guarantee we could get back in seven or 10 days," the deputy fire marshal said, noting his department's budget and staffing constraints.

Stem denied he had violated fire regulations, saying he made the needed modifications.

As the fire was burning, he told reporters his workshop had doors and walls that would contain flames for at least an hour. He also said the workshop building tothe rear of the store was one of the few areas still standing.

But Thomas said investigators looking through the rubble found evidencethat not all of the required modifications had been made.

He alsosaid the fire marshal has not decided whether to press charges or collect the $100-per-day-non-compliance fine that could be levied.

The fire marshal first will confer with the attorney general and county state's attorney, Thomas added.

Edward Ulsch, deputy state's attorney, said Tuesday his office had not discussed the case yet with the fire marshal.

Sunday's fire started in Stem's workshop and soon spread to Heagy's Sport Shop in the same building.

Fueled by what Stem estimated as more than 10,000 square feet of furniture, plus stripping and refinishing chemicals and ammunition at Heagy's, the intense blaze burned out of control for more than five hours as about 150 firefighters from three counties battled the flames.

In all, 53 pieces of equipment from 24 fire stations in Carroll, Baltimore, Frederick and Adams County (Pa.) were deployed at the fire scene and filling in at other stations.

Jay S. Nusbaum, chief of the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department, said the fire was the equivalent of a seven-alarm blaze. Five actual alarms were declared, but several extra pieces of equipment were called in, primarily to help shuttle water fromother parts of the city.

Water had to be brought in from other areas of the city's water system because so many pumpers, ladder trucksand ladder towers were trying to douse the blaze, said Nusbaum, who added water pressure was not a problem.

"We were just pulling morewater than what the mains could give us," Nusbaum said, adding a current drought apparently was not a contributing factor.

William S. Mowell, city public works director, said the 12-inch water main serving the area is one of Westminster's largest. He added the city water superintendent was at the fire scene and an extra pump was activated at the water treatment plant to maintain pressure.

Mowell said about 300,000 to 500,000 gallons of water were used to fight the fire.

He added some of the water used to fight the blaze flowed through storm sewers and into the West Branch of the Patapsco -- which the city had been using as a water source because of the drought -- and given some drinking water a smoky taste and odor.

Mowell said Tuesday he hoped to have the problem cleared up shortly.

To help combat the shortage at the fire, tankers and pumpers relayed water from the Cranberry Reservoir and an abandoned well on John Street. At one time during the height of the fire, 10 pumpers and tankers were lined up onDistillery Drive waiting to empty water into one of three portable troughs, each holding from 2,200 to 3,500 gallons.

Nusbaum said such water supply problems are unusual.

He said supply was not a problem, for example, in April at the four-alarm apartment fire several blocks west on Main Street that killed one man.

He added that the quantity of furniture stored in Stem's made for an unusually heavy "fire load."

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