PA 08-65—HB 5802
Public Safety and Security Committee
Planning and Development Committee
AN ACT CONCERNING THE STATE FIRE PREVENTION CODE
SUMMARY: This act makes several changes affecting enforcement of the state Fire Prevention Code, which the law requires the state to adopt by October 1, 2008, and the state Fire Safety Code.
With regard to the Fire Prevention Code, the act (1) allows the state fire marshal to issue official code interpretations; (2) establishes a code waiver process; (3) removes the state Codes and Standards Committee from the appeal process for fire safety and prevention decisions, requiring appeals of local fire marshals' decisions to be made to the state fire marshal and appeals of the state fire marshal's decisions to be made to Superior Court; (4) allows the state fire marshal and local fire marshals to issue orders and citations to building owners and occupants to correct code violations; and (5) establishes a penalty of up to six months in prison, a fine of $200 to $1,000, or both, for code violations.
The act expands the authority of police officers and local fire officials to order people to vacate buildings for safety reasons and establishes state oversight of such orders when an unsafe building condition cannot be corrected in four hours or less. It reduces the penalty for certain unsafe building conditions for which the local fire marshal issues corrective orders.
It allows fire code officials to inspect manufacturing establishments, which are currently exempt from the inspection requirements that apply to other buildings.
It also makes miscellaneous minor and technical changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2008
FIRE PREVENTION CODE
The law requires the state to adopt a State Fire Prevention Code by October 1, 2008 to (1) enhance local fire marshals' enforcement capabilities and (2) prevent fire and other related emergencies. The act (1) allows the state fire marshal to issue official interpretations of the code, including the applicability of any provision, upon request, and (2) requires him to compile and index the interpretations and publish them at least quarterly.
Code Modifications and Waivers
The act allows the state fire marshal to grant requests for code exemptions, variations, or alternative or equivalent compliance when he determines that strict compliance is unwarranted or would entail practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship. The local fire marshal, within 15 days after getting such requests, must send them, along with written comments on their merits, to the state fire marshal, by first class mail. Any variation, exemption, or alternative compliance must ensure public safety.
Code Appeal Process
The act eliminates the Codes and Standards Committee's mandate to establish a process, which includes the committee, to hear appeals of the state fire marshal's or local fire marshals' enforcement of the fire prevention and safety statutes. The law still requires the committee to establish a process for appealing the state fire marshal's or local fire marshals' enforcement of the state Fire Safety Code. (The Fire Safety Code provides “for reasonable safety from fire, smoke, and panic therefrom” in regulated buildings. )
The act, instead, requires the state fire marshal to review local fire marshals' Fire Prevention Code decisions (1) when anyone appeals them or (2) when he believes the local officials misconstrued or misinterpreted any code provision. If, after reviewing a decision and consulting with the official, the state fire marshal determines that the official misconstrued or misinterpreted the code, he (1) must issue an official interpretation and (2) may issue any appropriate order. He must send a written copy of the determination or order to the local official by registered mail, return receipt requested. Anyone aggrieved by the state fire marshal's decision, including any enforcement decision, may appeal to Superior Court.
When the state or a local fire marshal determines that a building condition violates the Fire Prevention Code, the act requires the official to order the building owner or occupant to remedy the condition, in accordance with applicable municipal building codes, ordinances, rules, and regulations. The act subjects the owner or occupant to imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of between $200 and $1,000, or both, and up to $50 per day for each day a violation continues.
If the violator does not remedy the violation in a reasonable time the state or local official specifies, the local fire official must promptly notify, in writing, the state's prosecuting attorney for the municipality where the violation or condition exists of all the relevant facts. The state fire marshal, acting on his own or at the local fire marshal's request, may apply for a court injunction to close or restrict the place or premises from public service or use until the violation or condition is remedied. Alternatively, the local fire marshal may ask the chief executive officer or local official authorized to institute actions on the municipality's behalf to apply for the injunction.
As an alternative to issuing violation orders, the act allows code enforcement officials to issue citations for up to $250 for Fire Prevention Code violations. The citation must be in writing, signed by the issuing official, and include the name and address of the building owner or occupant, if known; the specific offense charged; and the time and place of the violation. The violator must also sign the citation to acknowledge receipt. The issuing official must, if practicable, deliver a copy of the citation to the owner or occupant at the time and place of the violation, or use some other reasonable means of notification. An official may not issue a citation to a person cited for the same violation within the previous six months.
All fines for citations issued by the state fire marshal go to the General Fund. The state must remit to municipalities 90% of the fines for citations issued by local officials; 10% goes to the General Fund. Each Superior Court clerk or the chief court administrator must certify quarterly to the comptroller the amount due for the previous quarter to each municipality the office of the clerk or official serves.
UNSAFE BUILDING ORDERS
The act makes changes in the statutes pertaining to vacation and corrective orders and applies the provisions to manufacturing facilities, which were exempt under prior law.
Vacation Orders for Unsafe Buildings
The act expands the authority of local fire officials and police officers to order that a building be vacated because it poses a risk of injury or death. Currently they may do this if (1) the building is overcrowded, (2) exits are blocked, or (3) pyrotechnics are being used indoors. The act adds (1) insufficient or impeded exits, (2) storage of flammable or explosive material without a permit or above permit limits, and (3) shutting off or failing to maintain any fire protection or warning system required by the fire safety or fire prevention codes. With regard to pyrotechnics, the act allows the officials to vacate a building when pyrotechnics are being used without a permit, whether indoors or outdoors. The act requires the local officials to notify the state fire marshal if they anticipate that any of the above conditions cannot be abated in four hours or less. By law, a violation of the order carries a fine of $200 to $1,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.
Corrective Orders for Unsafe Buildings
By law, when a local fire marshal ascertains building conditions (1) are likely to endanger life or property, (2) pose a fire hazard, or (3) violate the fire safety or prevention statutes or regulations, the official must order that the conditions be corrected. Under prior law, the building owner or occupant was subject to a fine of $200 to $1,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both for these unsafe conditions and a possible $50 for each day of a continuing violation. The act reduces the base penalty to a maximum of $100, imprisonment for up to three months, or both. It retains the $50 per day penalty for continuing violations.
The law allows local fire marshals and the state fire marshal to enter and inspect for code compliance buildings and “facilities of public service,” manufacturing facilities, and occupancies regulated by the state Fire Safety Code. The act extends their authority to all buildings, processes, equipment systems, and other areas regulated by both the fire safety and fire prevention codes, thereby reflecting current practice. It also requires local fire marshals to inspect any other building within their jurisdictions on an authentic report that the building poses a fire hazard that could endanger life. The state fire marshal already has this authority in his jurisdiction.
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