Cutting Fire Losses with Adequate Building Codes
Necessity for Cities and Towns to Adopt Own Laws Governing Proper Fire Construction—Should Follow General Lines of State Codes
THE necessity for properly formulated building codes for the smaller cities is by no means confined to the State of Ohio. While Mr. Kearns is no doubt talking to the citizens of that state, his paper would apply with equal force to many another community of these United States. The problem of proper construction of buildings is one which has a more direct bearing upon fire prevention than almost any other.
Our department is quite naturally interested in municipal codes. It may be a selfish reason that makes us feel the necessity of municipal codes in order to cope with the fire hazards which exist in the various cities of the state. We have a statute law which covers construction and erection of theatres and assembly halls of all kinds, and school building sanitation and we have prepared in addition to that, codes in regard to factory building, churches, lodge buildings, hospitals and garages. These are, however, tentative codes, but are given force and effect of law when adopted by industrial commissions and the issuance of a general order. Some are issued as general orders, others are used for inspection by our department.
All Plans Are to Be Submitted
You are aware of the fact, of course, that public buildings of all kinds built in the state are supposed to be at least, submitted to our department for examination and approval, and I will take it that we are receiving plans for a majority of buildings built throughout the state, although we are aware of the fact that some are not being submitted. Our greatest difficulty is going into the cities and finding these buildings and correcting the defects. To illustrate, a short time ago one of our inspectors got into a place and discovered two or three semi-public and public buildings built and the plans which should have been submitted to our department for approval had not been filed. In this particular city they had no building restrictions of any kind. They did have an ordinance which requires a building permit, but they are able to get that permit without anybody investigating or looking into the class of building to be built. When we investigated those buildings our inspector went in and he attempted to straighten out their defects. Or course, you understand what a job that is after the building has been completed.
Now, if a city had some kind of a law, or the authorities had some idea of the way the building should be built before they issued a permit, it would save considerable money for the owners of the building, because it is much more expensive to make these changes after the building is completed, than it would have been had they been made during the course of construction.
Department Forced to Order Changes
Our department is forced to issue these orders for changes and they are changes which chiefs will be particularly interested in. That is, those to prevent fire hazards in regard to the boiler rooms, and for fire doors between different parts of the building. Another is defective wiring. A number of other defects have to be corrected. If some of the fire chiefs in some of these cities that know that some of these buildings are not being built correctly, or that a fire may start therein as a result of the building, will appeal to us, we will try to give them as much attention as we possibly can. We feel the necessity of it, but we are unable to cope alone with the situation. We have only 27 men to cover the whole State of Ohio and we have 101 different angles to the work. Building inspection is only one part of the work. It is a large part, but only one of the many difficulties; one of the many duties present in our department. It is a physical impossibility for us to keep in touch with the conditions. There is only one way and that is, to get the cities to adopt their own building regulations. When someone makes application for a permit, then to have someone look over the building and see if it conforms to the building regulations.
Cities and Towns Should Have Own Codes
You do not necessarily have to follow rigidly the requirements adopted for the larger cities, but the building code is adaptable in the larger as well as to the smaller cities. We can make no deviation. You can have your own code. I am sure that you would save lots of trouble for yourself, lots of money for the taxpayers, and in a great many cases the lives of the taxpayers if you did. There is a large loss of life from poorly constructed buildings.
(Continued on page 108)
“There is only one way and that is to get the cities to adopt their own building regulations. You do not necessarily have to follow rigidly the requirements adopted for the larger cities, but the building code is adaptable in the larger as well as in the smaller cities. We can make no deviation. You can have your own code. I am sure that you would save lots of trouble for yourself, lots of money for the taxpayers, and in a great many cases the lives of the taxpayers if you did.”
Reducing Losses by Adequate Building Codes
(Continued from page 105)
Cannot a department be organized to work with the officials of your city to get them to agree not to approve a set of plans for any public or semi-public building until they have received the approval of our department? In some cases that rule is followed out. No permit will be issued unless the plan is first approved by our department. One of our greatest troubles now is the garages built throughout the state, particularly in small municipalities. Ordinarily, the fellow building a garage wants to build it just as cheap as he can. You can’t blame him in a way, yet he ought to realize that he owes it to himself and he owes it to the surrounding property owners to protect them to a certain extent. We find that where no attempt is made to enforce restrictions along the building line, that there might be at any time a garage built between two homes and filled up with gasoline and other volatile liquids which create the worst kind of a fire hazard. That ought to convince the officials of any city that there is a necessity for a local building ordinance, or local building regulations. There is only one way in the world it can be controlled. We are giving just as much attention to it as we possibly can, but as willing as we might be we cannot do it. It is not a big problem for a municipality to get a building code. It is not an expensive proposition. In smaller cities they do not need much of a building department, one or two men could perform the work necessary to carry on a building department of that kind. The inspection of plans and buildings and the erection f the same, men to see that rules and regulations and ordinances of the city are followed out.
“One of our greatest troubles now is the garages throughout the state, particularly in the small municipalities. Ordinarily a fellow building a garage wants to build it just as cheaply as he can. You can’t blame him in a way, yet he ought to realize that he owes it to himself and he owes it to the surrounding property owners to protect them to a certain extent.”
Simply Follow State Code
It is only a small matter as far as the code is concerned. They can get the building regulations from the State of Ohio right now, which covers certain restrictions and regulations for erecting buildings. That is a condition that must be taken care of locally and if they can get these regulations from the city what remains to be done is to adopt such regulations as will control local conditions. Many of the cities of the state who have building regulations, followed the state code. Now, if cities could be made to see the necessity of these things and if they could see that it is not an expensive proposition after all, I
believe in a great many cases they could be induced to adopt a code on building regulations.
I do not know of anyone who is able to take up a campaign of this kind better than the fire chiefs of the municipalities. They understand the situation more clearly than anybody else. They can point out what is necessary to prevent fires and I believe that they could do much in their own municipality to bring this about. I assure them that if our department can be of any assistance to the chiefs in any way, shape or form we are willing to help them to adopt these regulations in the smaller cities.
(Excerpts from a paper read before the annual convention of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Club.)