West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price recommended sprinklers last week to protect against fire hazards in Holmes Beach duplexes.
At a Jan. 10 city commission meeting, Price told commissioners worried about the safety of those living in more than 1,000 units across the city to consider an ordinance requiring sprinkler installation with any new duplex construction in the Residential-2 zone.
“Back in 2004-05, when these buildings started popping up, we had issues with them because they were so close,” Price said. “There was almost no access.”
He said fences, power lines and the closeness of the homes allow “absolutely no access to some of these structures.”
Commission Chair Jean Peelen said, “I am horrified that these buildings can be, and continue to be built.”
Mayor Carmel Monti asked Price if he knew of precedence for retrofitting buildings with sprinklers, and Price replied he did not.
Commissioner Pat Morton said, “My thing is safety.” He asked for Price’s recommendations in homes of six to eight bedrooms.
Price recommended smoke detectors. He said smoke detectors woke up and saved the lives of homeowners in a recent Key Royale fire.
Price said later that sprinkler ordinances have been enacted in numerous jurisdictions, but knew of none locally. He believes Longboat Key has relied on the state building code to require sprinklers in three-story buildings.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked if the city could have existing duplexes inspected by the fire department.
Price said state law exempts residential one- and two-family construction from the fire department’s inspection requirements, although there can be life hazard or voluntary inspections.
Zaccagnino concluded it was up to the city’s building department to make sure the code is met, and that a proposed ordinance limiting living-area ratio will prevent the close construction of residences.
Peelen said that the building department in the past didn’t do proper inspections, which contributed to the problem.
Commissioner Judy Titsworth said the problem stemmed from the building department not requiring the plans with the proper fire assemblies to meet the code.
When she recommended the proper engineering to former public works director Joe Duennes, Titsworth said he told her “it would be a pretty good idea if we did.”
“But we didn’t,” she continued. “Now we have a ton of them.”
Jim Greenamoyer, manager of the fire sprinkler division of McDonough WMF Plumbing of Sarasota, estimated it would cost $2 per square foot for new duplex construction and $3 per square foot to retrofit structures. The average duplex is about 2,613 square feet.