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Photo: Jim King of the Volunteer Firemen's Association of Sussex County.
GEORGETOWN -- After much discussion, Sussex County Council unanimously adopted an ordinance requiring that smoke detectors be placed inside bedrooms in addition to outside hallways at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2001.
The ordinance, endorsed by local fire organizations such as the Volunteer Firemen's Association of Sussex County, the Sussex County Fire Chiefs Association, and the Delaware State Fire Prevention Commission, brings the county's building code up to the 1995 edition of the Council of American Building Officials (CABO) code for one- and two-family buildings.
The new code strengthens the existing code, which requires only that a hard-wired smoke detector be placed in hallways outside sleeping areas in newly constructed or remodeled homes.
Now, all new construction and remodeling projects will also be required to install hard-wired smoke detectors with battery backups inside sleeping areas in addition to the hallway detectors. Smoke detectors in new homes will also be required to be inter-connected.
As in the first reading of the ordinance on Dec. 12, 2000, there was much confusion among the council members about exactly what they were changing with this ordinance.
Sussex County Administrator Robert L. Stickels and council members were particularly concerned that because the ordinance applies to any alteration or repair, that the county's inspectors would require homeowners to bring their entire homes up to code even if they were just adding a deck or screened porch.
"To force the renovation of other parts of the house would create an inconvenience," said Councilman Finley B. Jones. "Certainly, new parts of the house should be brought up to code, but I think the existing house would be a judgment call (by the inspector). That concerns me. What happens is we're asking the inspector to go and make that determination."
Stickels and Van Milligan of the county's building code office said that happens now with First State Inspections making its own interpretation of what is and isn't required by the county's building codes.
In the event a homeowner disputes First State's interpretation, Stickels said an appeals process is in place that allows the homeowner to appeal First State's interpretation to either him or the Building Code office.
In response to a question from Councilman Vance Phillips, Milligan said that the county already requires homeowners building an addition or remodeling or even adding a screened porch to bring their homes up to the current code of one hard-wired smoke detector with battery backup outside sleeping areas on each floor.
The only change, Milligan said, would be the requirement to put those smoke detectors inside each bedroom.
With those explanations, council members voted 5-0 for the ordinance, saying that the appeals process would be sufficient for anyone who feels an inspector has been unfair in determining how a home should be brought up to code.
Earlier in the meeting, representatives of fire fighting associations recommended adoption of the ordinance, saying it would save lives.
Jim King, of the Volunteer Firemen's Association of Sussex County, said he has seen two fires in the past where even though adults in the house were awake during daylight hours, children asleep in a bedroom perished because there were no smoke detectors in the bedrooms where the fires started.
He specifically cited a recent fire in Laurel where children playing with matches and lighters in a bedroom started a fire in a house without smoke detectors. By the time the grandmother discovered what was happening, it was too late. All four children, and the grandmother trying to save them, died.
"Fires can progress very rapidly," said King. "I have nine smoke detectors in my house. All are inter-connected so that when one smoke detector goes off, it alerts all the others and they all go off. If my children are playing (with fire) in the bedroom, I'll know about it."
He did, however, say he didn't care if the smoke detectors were hard-wired with battery backups or just battery-operated as long as they were functional and placed inside the sleeping areas.
He added that in his opinion, inspectors of any remodeling project should be inspecting the rest of the house to be sure that at least one functional smoke detector exists in the living area.
"I understand your concerns about additions, decks, screened-in porches and the like," said King. "I hope that at least we can strike a compromise here and make sure, that the inspector makes sure, that a functional smoke detector exists in the living area."
Other concerns were raised by Greenwood resident Dan Kramer, who feared that the ordinance would require owners of two-family homes such as duplexes to bring their units up to code if the other homeowner made repairs on their unit. Milligan said the code only applied to the unit being worked on.
Phillips raised the issue of cost, asking how much it would cost a homeowner to add a hard-wired smoke detector with a battery backup. He didn't get a straight answer, but Cole said, "If it saves a life, it's worth it."
Photo: New council president Dale Dukes
Dale Dukes was unanimously elected president and Finley B. Jones vice president as the council reorganized for the start of the New Year.
Dukes, who has been on council since 1989, held the president's position for 8 years before Lynn J. Rogers took over as president.
Rogers decided not to seek the president's position again this year. He will remain the council's representative on the Sussex County Airport Advisory Committee. Jones will be the county's representative on the Soil Conservation committee.
In other reorganization business, council approved the re-appointments of Eugene Bayard as legal counsel to the Sussex County Council, Dennis Schrader as legal counsel to the county's Planning & Zoning Commission, and Richard Earl as legal counsel to the county's Board of Adjustments.
Council also approved seven banking account resolutions authorizing the continuation of its 48 accounts with Wilmington Trust, Mellon Bank, Delaware National Bank and Baltimore Trust.
Dukes abstained from the Delaware National Bank vote because he is a member of the bank's board of directors.
SR-1 Grid Agreement
Council delayed a decision on accepting a Memorandum of Agreement with the Delaware Department of Transportation regarding the SR-1 Grid between Red Mill Pond and the south side of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
The Memorandum of Agreement contains a 16-point plan for the council to work with DelDOT on implementing a $25 million, 6-year Capital Improvement Program to plan, design, obtain rights-of-way and for construction improvements along the corridor.
Under the agreement, DelDOT and the county would jointly develop the SR-1 Grid plan and implement it in the county's comprehensive land use plan, would appoint a 30-person Public Advisory Committee to assist in the process that would include representatives of business, emergency and government agencies, and require that the capacity roads in the grid be limited access roadways.
Council members questioned DelDOT representatives Tricia Faust and Joe Catalupo at length on the agreement, with Councilmen Lynn Rogers and Vance Phillips particularly concerned. Both asked for more time to go over the document before council voted on it.
"There are some questions I've got," said Rogers. "There are a lot of words (in the document) that are heading in a direction that maybe we don't want to be a part of. This is a very sensitive area, from Route 16 all the way to Rehoboth. We don't want north of Five Points to turn into what happened south of Five Points."
The SR-1 Grid plan has been in the works since December 1998, and Rogers was also concerned that the agreement could be radically changed with the administration of new Governor Ruth Ann Minner taking over this week. "We need to let the new administration get off the ground and running (before moving forward on the agreement)," he said.
Cantalupo said he would like council to act on the agreement within the next week or so in order to get the planning process started.
"This needs to be done whether I'm still here or not," said Cantalupo. "We're very confident that this will make its way through (a new administration)."
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