Officials weigh safety rules

Committee considers effects of development

Group wants objective template

Standards measure strain on firefighters

Carroll County

November 24, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A committee of public safety officials from the county is working on a set of standards designed to measure whether proposed housing developments would place an undue strain on firefighters.

The group is dissatisfied with a process that relies on subjective findings to determine whether a proposed development should not be allowed under adequate-facilities laws designed to prevent growth from overwhelming county services. Instead, it is preparing a detailed checklist that would evaluate whether roads and bridges would enable firefighters to respond quickly to an emergency and would require that enough water be available when they arrive.

"We'd like to create a template that agencies will be able to use to assess the adequacy of a development," said Scott Campbell, the director of the county's office of public safety and a member of the emergency services committee of the county's growth management task force. The committee is poised to deliver a standardized set of requirements next month.

In June, the county commissioners imposed a one-year freeze on significant portions of residential and commercial development. The measure halted subdivision plans that are covered by the county's adequate-facilities laws.

The freeze was designed to give county officials time to work on more permanent growth controls without creating a rush of development. County officials created a task force to come up with recommendations on adequate-facilities standards relating to schools, businesses, homes and public safety.

The first task the emergency services committee had to tackle was streamlining a system that leaves the definition of adequacy to individual fire chiefs, who use a form with no hard standards for roads, available water or acceptable response times.

"Each individual chief has a different perspective on what it means to be an adequate facility," said Greg Dods, committee chairman and chief of the Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department.

Because there tend to be delays to the evaluations made by the chiefs, Dods said, the committee is likely to suggest that the task be transferred to the county's office of public safety. But if any concerns arise -- such as a wobbly bridge, limited road access to a site or a questionable water source -- fire chiefs would be brought in for consultation.

The chiefs' comments are passed on to the county planning and zoning commission, but the office of public safety determines whether a proposal meets adequate-facilities requirements, Campbell said.

If estimates show that a fire company's response time would exceed five minutes for less than 15 percent of calls, the development would not violate the adequate-facilities restriction.

As long as the estimates show that the number of calls that would have to be passed on to another station is less than 4 percent, the development would meet the requirements.

Campbell acknowledges that the standard is not acceptable. He said the committee will look beyond response times to other factors.

The group is focusing on three elements: water, roads and medical personnel.

The committee is to determine how many gallons of water would be needed to fight a fire at the site and the distance firefighters would have to haul that water.

"Municipal water is very limited," Campbell said. "The chiefs have good cause to worry about the lack of water."

The committee is also working on a detailed checklist for road and bridge conditions leading to the site of a proposed development.

If a fire chief thinks that a bridge is not sturdy enough to support multi-ton firetrucks, the chief can note that on the form and meet with county roads staff to discuss solutions and repair plans.

If developers want projects to move ahead more quickly, they might have to pay for the repairs.

The width of a road, its condition and type would also be noted under the revised criteria.

Emergency workers also want a development to be accessible by more than one road.

While they evaluate the adequate-facilities issues, fire officials are also calling for more staffing for emergency medical services, which they say accounts for the majority of their calls.

Dods said that 72 percent of the assignments given to the county's fire stations last year were for medical emergencies.

Dods said the committee has been studying statistics from the county's 911 dispatch center showing types of calls, the time of day they occur and where the calls originate.

After the numbers have been evaluated, the committee will make a recommendation for personnel increases that would reduce response times. Dods said he would like to make the acceptable response time eight minutes or less for all calls.

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