Commissioners raise questions about county’s fire regulations

A large expense in a county facilities project has sparked confusion among commissioners about Island County’s fire regulations.

The Island County commissioners, during a recent work session, asked staff what is, and isn’t, required under local fire code.

The conversation began with the knowledge it would cost $280,000 to put in a turnabout lane at the planned Camano Annex building.

The project’s contingency funding was sufficient to cover the costs, but it was a significant dip in contingency and caused commissioners to wonder about the flexibility in fire regulations.

“If we’re paying it, that means other private businesses are paying for the same thing,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said in an interview.

Johnson and Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said during the meeting that they wanted to understand what is required, its cost and what is necessary for safety.

The Camano Annex building is the first county facility project for the current commissioners, Johnson said, which means these types of questions hadn’t come up before.

There are requirements in place to ensure fire engines aren’t forced to back up too far, Public Works Director Bill Oakes said during the meeting.

The length of the driveway is what triggers a need for some type of turnaround, he said.

This requirement is set by fire access regulations. The county doesn’t have its own fire code, instead it uses what the state adopts from the International Fire Code.

However, the state didn’t adopt the access section of the code, so local jurisdictions use their own regulations to set fire engine access requirements.

This detail amplified the confusion.

“How is it our regulation if we haven’t adopted it?” Johnson asked staff at the meeting.

Oakes said the code that required the turnabout resided in the county’s driveway standards. Later that week, Johnson said her questions remained unanswered.

“We wanted the opportunity to understand how much flexibility we have within that to be responsive to community needs,” she said.

Facilities Director Larry Van Horn said the Camano design came about through his conversations with the local fire district.

Van Horn said there were a number of options they could consider, and a pull-through to a gate that separates the parking lots of the annex and the sheriff’s office was “the most cost-effective and efficient way of doing it.”

He said he’ll present a complete update on the project to commissioners March 13.

As for flexibility within the county’s standards as it will apply to future commercial building projects, Johnson said she hopes to bring the conversation back to the table.

“There does not seem to be a clear understanding of the board’s questions or a clear answer,” she said.

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