Fire safety in historic area to be studied Annapolis city council addresses difficult issue

January 13, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

About one month after a five-alarm fire destroyed a historic building on Main Street, the Annapolis city council voted last night to create a commission to study fire safety standards in historic homes and commercial buildings.

The resolution was proposed after the Dec. 9 blaze alerted city officials to the lack of fire safety devices and alarms in most historic buildings.

The 11-member commission, approved unanimously, will study federal, state and city codes and regulations with an eye toward drafting legislation to make improvements.

The resolution was widely praised last night, but business owners and residents expressed concern about being forced to install costly equipment such as sprinkler systems, fire alarms and smoke detectors.

Many urged the council to study "the complex issue" closely because it involves a wide range of thorny areas, including building code regulations, historic preservation and fire safety technology.

But most seemed to agree that some action is needed.

In a letter by Stephen C. Samaras, president of the Annapolis Business Association, read to the council last night, Samaras said, "In the wake of the fire, we realized just how vulnerable our homes and businesses are to the devastation of fire."

The owner of Chick and Ruth's Delly, Ted Levitt, agreed and added, "It seems like a pretty good idea. It's pretty easy to say that everyone should do it, but what's the best way to do it? We have to consider the costs."

The resolution was sponsored by three Democratic alderman, Sheila M. Tolliver, Louise Hammond and Samuel Gilmer.

"I think we can do better on fire safety than we do now," said Tolliver, a Ward 2 Democrat. "We need to look at what other historic cities do in this area, and we need to see how they avoid having fires."

The commission will include at least two people who have expertise in fire safety issues; one structural engineer; an architect with a background in historic preservation; two electrical systems experts; and a representative of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. Citizens and business owners of the historic district will also be represented on the commission.

City officials said the commission's report will be a plan to "better prepare for the future." The report will incorporate suggestions from the Fire Department and city planners and include recommendations on incentives for building owners to improve fire safety.

The commission's report will also study building codes to make recommendations on how to improve the structural integrity of historic buildings.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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