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Fire Protection District refuses to relax fire codes in Riverland

Park’s fire suppression still inadequate

Property owners in the Riverland Industrial Park (RIP), the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners and members of the Crested Butte Fire Protection District (CBFPD) remain locked in a standoff due to an inability to reach agreement about adequate and necessary fire protection for the RIP area.
This is despite efforts by Gunnison County to bring in a neutral outside party to provide feedback and recommendations about fire suppression within the RIP.



Last fall Gunnison County hired Deborah Shaner of Shaner Life Safety Systems to provide a comprehensive overview of the fire situation in the RIP and, if one existed, to provide a path forward that would satisfy both the property owners and the fire protection district, said Russ Forrest, Gunnison County community development director. The county asked Shaner to provide a risk assessment, a short-term solution to mitigate any risk found “and a reasonable long-term solution to improve safety and allow for the development of the six undeveloped lots in the industrial park.”
Upon completing her study of the RIP and the existing fire code, Shaner concluded that the industrial park does have a level of unacceptable risk, primarily because of the mixed use that occurs in the area, and that it currently fails to meet the fire code as set by the CBFPD.
“There are residential units mixed in with the industrial and commercial development,” Shaner told the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners on March 18. “The inadequate fire flows, coupled with the residential lots, complicated the issue.”
To address this, Shaner suggested the RIP not be held to the International Fire Code, which the CBFPD implemented in 2008. Instead, she suggested, it should meet a portion of the national standards.
“The long-term solution I’ve suggested is based on section 1142 in the national standards,” said Shaner. “It’s really not feasible to impose fire code outlined … for municipal supply onto this rural development.”
The municipal fire code requires that all developments be able to supply 1,500 gallons of water a minute for fire suppression for two hours—an amount that requires about 180,000 gallons of water storage capability. If this requirement is not or cannot be met, property owners are required to install sprinklers on the buildings. Currently the RIP has about 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of water storage, and most construction is not equipped with sprinklers.
The solution that Shaner suggested would require that the RIP owners install a suppression system capable of delivering 500 gallons per minute throughout the complex. That figure was based on a portion of the National Fire Protection Association Code that determines the minimum water supply necessary for structural fire-fighting purposes in areas where there is no water or inadequate water for fire fighting.
“The standard seemed to meet the spirit of the International Code used by the fire protection district,” said Shaner. However, shortly after making the recommendation to the CBFPD, Shaner told the BOCC, “We received a response from the fire department in writing that said it was not an acceptable approach: buildings either need to be sprinkled or [the standards of the international fire code] needed to be achieved.”
The CBFPD confirmed its response, adding that it was largely unwilling to make an exception to the requirements it had in place for fire suppression.
“Everyone else within the district has complied with the standards of the International Fire Code,” said Rick Ems, CBFPD fire marshal. “If this becomes the standard in Riverland, then the implied standards we’ve been enforcing since 2008 are in jeopardy. We don’t want to set a precedent for other developments in our 220-square-mile jurisdiction.”
The cost for RIP owners to meet the codes set by the CBFPD are estimated at upward of seven figures. Shaner’s proposed solution would likely run about $200,000 said Forrest.
As the discussion seemed to do little more than push the RIP and the CBFPD further into a stalemate, Forrest attempted to outline possible outcomes the BOCC could take to resolve the issue.
He told the BOCC they could opt to take no further action, which would mean that the lots in RIP would remain in danger of fire; they could withdraw their approval of the district’s adoption of the 2008 Fire Code, which would then cause a ripple effect throughout the county and would require future construction in unincorporated Gunnison County to adhere only to building codes and not the International Fire Code; or the CBFPD on its own could approve “the solution by the independent Fire Protection Engineer.”
“The best option is for the district to exercise the authority the staff believes they have to implement the solution in Ms. Shaner’s report,” said Forrest.
The BOCC then asked the CBFPD if it would be willing to work with county staff and reconsider the efficacy of Shaner’s recommendations for the RIP.
“This is a potential solution for the issues at hand,” said Commissioner Jonathan Houck. “Accepting it now doesn’t mean we stop looking for better solutions and higher benchmarks. What we should be asking is, is this moving us in the right direction? I have a hard time looking at the information in front of me and not seeing that we are moving in the right direction.”
The BOCC then directed county staff to work with the CBFPD in coming up with some sort of solution before meeting again on April 22.

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