Johnson appoints 11-member fire safety panel Cost of bringing buildings up to code a worry to some

March 08, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson has appointed 11 people to the city's new Commission to Study Fire Safety in historic buildings, created after a five-alarm blaze destroyed a 98-year-old building on Main Street in December.

Harry Klasmeier, who was Anne Arundel County's fire administrator from 1964 to 1983, is to head the commission, joined by business, engineering and community representatives, including former Annapolis Mayor John T. Chambers.

The Dec. 9 fire, which left a gaping hole in the row of buildings near the top of Main Street, alerted city officials to the lack of fire safety devices and alarms in most historic buildings.

The commission's objective will be to study federal, state and city codes and regulations with an eye toward drafting legislation to make improvements.

Johnson said he was "very pleased with all those who expressed the willingness to serve on this important commission and was particularly delighted that Chief Klasmeier would take on the additional responsibilities as chair."

The members of the commission will be introduced at a meeting before the city council tomorrow.

The others named to the commission are Joan Abel, Geoffrey Bridges, Paul T. Elder, Douglas Meekins, Joseph R. Reynolds, Stephen H. Rogers, Jay Schwartz, Anthony Spencer and Ann M. Widner.

The Annapolis fire code is based on the BOCA National Fire Prevention Code and Life Safety Code, which require smoke detectors in all dwellings and a higher level of fire protection in most new commercial buildings. This usually means adding smoke detectors, alarms or sprinklers.

But the code does not apply to old commercial buildings unless they are altered, remodeled or renovated; the use changes from residential to commercial, or a new business moves in; they contain hazards "inimical to the public welfare and safety."

While the formation of the commission has been applauded, many in the business community are worried about the cost of bringing historic buildings up to code.

They have urged the council to study the issue carefully because it involves building codes, historic preservation techniques and fire safety technology.

"I think it all needs to be checked out because they are vulnerable to fire," Chambers said. "We have to do everything we can to safeguard those buildings. That historic district is a vital resource of the city because people come from all over to visit some of those old buildings."

In other city matters, James T. Chase resigned last week after 12 years of direction the Department of Parking and Transportation. His last day is June 30.

Chase doubled the size of the department and brought the number of transit buses from eight to 20. He helped open Gotts Court Garage, improved off-street parking, helped regulate taxi service in the city and opened the new Transportation Facility on Chinquapin Round Road.

The mayor also credited Chase with merging the duties of the parking fines and enforcement section into the transportation department, helping bus ridership grow and extending the office's hours of operation.

"James Chase is one of the pioneers who started public transit in the Annapolis area back in the late 1970s," Johnson said. "He helped build the rural community bus line into today's much more sophisticated city transit system.

"Mr. Chase has given us the platform from which we will expand transit in this region and carry service to even higher levels," Johnson said.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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