May 11, 2013

Fire officials focus on building codes in Waterville blaze

Investigators focus on whether a sprinkler system, which was not on May 3, was up to code.

By AMY CALDER Morning Sentinel

(Continued from page 1)

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Two buildings in downtown Waterville burn Friday afternoon. As part of the investigation, investigators are looking into whether a sprinkler system was up to code. The fire on the upper floors of the Main Street buildings between Silver and Spring streets were aided by a sprinkler system that was not on at the time of the blaze.

Photo by Robert Koenig

"The onus does fall upon the owner," McCarthy said.

The rules are anything but cut and dried, however. Whether someone must have a sprinkler system depends on who or what will be in the building.

"A question I get thousands of times is, 'I'm building a 5,000-square-foot steel building. Do I need a sprinkler system?"' McCarthy said. "The answer is, I don't know. It depends. If the building is a bar -- yes. If it's storage building for metal fence posts? Probably not."

The National Fire Protection Association sets life safety codes, which determine whether a building needs a sprinkler system. The association also sets fire prevention codes. In addition, the state sets building codes, according to York.

Which codes apply to which buildings and situations vary, as every situation is unique, he said.

Are all buildings required to have smoke detectors, for instance?

"Typically, if people are sleeping in a building, smoke detectors are required, but that's a general statement," York said.

Codes are changing as well. Years ago, masonry walls were built between sections of buildings to stop fire from spreading; but as time goes on, people break through walls and make other changes, according to McCarthy.

York said he does not know whether the 18 Main St. building violated any codes.

"I'm not sure there will ever be a violation or summons issued, but I can't tell you right now that that won't happen," he said.

LOCAL CONCERNS

LaFountain is concerned about the dangers of downtown buildings not using sprinkler systems.

"When fire in a building gets going and you don't get a jump on it, you could end up losing a whole block," he said.

Waterville was lucky that fire Capt. Mike Michaud called in other fire departments to help suppress the 18 Main St. fire, that three ladder trucks were used, and that firefighters contained the fire, he said.

LaFountain is heading a special committee launched by city councilors to look at sprinkler systems downtown, as well as their inspection records and related issues. He said the committee will ask McCarthy to attend a meeting to explain who has jurisdiction in specific cases, and if someone is charged in a case, who has the authority to take that person to court.

Meanwhile, INK-4-LIFE owners Mona Juliano and her husband, Bill, have moved their tattoo business across Main Street to the former Levine's clothing store, where building owner Michael Sorrachi has been providing materials and helping them prepare the space for a June 1 opening. Tattoo artists also are helping, she said.

The Julianos had no insurance and lost about $20,000 worth of items in the fire, including several procedure chairs and a massage table, Mona Juliano said.

The couple have three children. She said they have been struggling to put food on the table since the fire, but they are not giving up.

"I want to get back to making a living," she said. "I just want to see all of us not struggling so much."

 

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

acalder@centralmaine.com

 

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