Fire safety vs. business interests in Ohio township

Fire safety vs. business interests in Ohio township

In Marseilles, Ohio, township residents and trustees have differing views concerning the fire codes that should apply to the large agricultural industries that have been growing in number in that area. In contention is an offer reportedly made by AgriGeneral Co. L.P. (now Buckeye Egg Farm) to give the township $100,000 for fire equipment if the officials agree not to adopt for five years local fire codes that would apply to the corporate egg farm. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has levied penalties of $1.072 million against the company`s Croton, Ohio, facility for various conditions that constitute health and safety threats to employees.

“We can`t see tying down our department/town for five years,” Chief Max Kennedy, of the Marseilles Fire Department, says. “It appears that there is no [concern about] safety in mind.” The department is a volunteer organization consisting of 26 members. “The volunteers,” explains Chief Kennedy, “voted to accept the Mid-Ohio code” (which is predominately the BOCA code with some special considerations that apply to mega agricultural firms, according to Marseilles Mayor Janice Kennedy).

Many of the fire department`s concerns are related to safety hazards. The facility in Marseilles has 16 buildings. Each 660-foot by 83-foot building consists of seven interconnected conveyor belts, joined by hallways, Chief Kennedy explains. There is only one opening (for ingress/egress), at one end of the conveyor-belt segment. These rooms are on the second floor. The first floor is a manure pit. The aisles are 18 to 20 inches apart. Other concerns include the following: The buildings are built so close together that no fire department equipment can be placed between them and there is no adequate water supply to the buildings (a pond is on the premises, and there has been a promise to place a hydrant at each end of each facility).

Part of the problem, according to Chief Kennedy, is that these occupancies are registered as farms when in fact they are industries.

The majority of Marseilles` citizens want the township trustees to adopt the more stringent Mid-Ohio code, as neighboring townships have done. In fact, according to Chief Kennedy, three-quarters of the township`s registered voters signed a petition urging the trustees to do so. The majority of citizens do not want a “watered-down” version of the code, the mayor says. The Concerned Citizens of Central Ohio also advocates the adoption of stricter fire codes for the egg farms. The efforts of this organization have been met with threats of legal suits, Mayor Kennedy notes.

The trustees, however, voted in September 1997 not to adopt the Mid-Ohio code. “The trustees,” reports Mayor Kennedy, are “trying to come up with an agreement with the egg company about the equipment the township is to receive.” The fire chief, however, has not been part of these negotiations.

Two of the trustees who voted against adopting the Mid-Ohio code were up for reelection on November 4 (after press time).

References: USA Today, Aug. 12, 1997; interviews with Chief Max Kennedy and Mayor Janice Kennedy, Oct. 24, 1997; “OSHA Proposes $1 Million In Fines Against Ohio Egg Processor Safety and Health Violations At Work,” Pathfinder Associates, Oct. 23, 1997; website http://www.webcom/pathfindr/1mifine.html.

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