Kenai takes up fire inspection ordinance

Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2000

On Wednesday night, the Kenai City Council finally will take up the question of requiring fire safety inspections of bed-and-breakfasts and in-home day care centers.

The ordinances were tabled a month ago because no one from the affected businesses came before the council to comment, which prompted Mayor John Williams to speculate there was enough public notice.

He directed the city's administration to notify those affected in the interim. However, news of the ordinances came as a surprise to Kenai Peninsula Bed and Breakfast Association President Pat Dwinnell.

"We haven't heard about it," she said. "I don't know who they would have contacted, because if anyone in the association had heard about it, they would have let us know."

The ordinances require an inspection by the Kenai Fire Department before a conditional-use permit is granted to operate either type of business. Preexisting operations would not be "grandfathered" in and must be inspected. The department would look for hard-wired smoke detectors, clear maps showing escape routes and adequate fire extinguishers. Follow-up inspections would be made every two years.

"I really feel that as long as (the ordinance) is within limits, and it takes an inspection that's fine. I think most of our members would agree with it," Dwinnell said. "The interesting thing is, as a bed-and-breakfast association, we've already put a lot of those things together, and they're part of our inspections."

The B-and-B association's inspections look for insurance, compliance with sales tax ordinances and licenses, water quality, fire extinguishers, exit plans and smoke alarms in each room.

"We want it to be a safe, clean and pleasant experience for people," Dwinnell said.

As for hard-wired smoke detectors, she said her home has one and suspects most association members do, too.

However, Dwinnell said there are a few nonmember B-and-Bs who are not taking as many safety precautions as the association would like.

"To be truthful, I think there are a lot of places that are not really complying, who aren't looking out for the safety of their guests," she said. "Certainly not all, but some."

Shannon Fitt of Peekaboo Place day care said her operation also complies with what the city of Kenai is interested in doing.

"We're inspected like everybody else," she said. "We're a state-licensed day care, so we have to be safe."

She said her business has an exit plan and performs fire drills.

"We had a fire inspector come in two years ago and said everything was fine, so I guess I'm OK with (the proposed regulations) then," Fitt said. "Though I know a lot of people who are against it because it would mean a lot more paper work."

Kenai Fire Marshal James Baisden said inspections of in-home day cares have been going on for some time, and the new codes will keep some operations from falling through the cracks.

"Inspecting day cares are pretty quick," he said. "We check to see if they have an exit plan, smoke detectors and a meeting place set up and that there are no hazards for the kids to get into. It's really to help the owner."

As for B-and-Bs, Baisden said he wants to get all of them inspected before the tourist season begins and set them up on the two-year schedules.

He said he will apply current building codes to homes based on their year of construction.

"If a hard-wired smoke detector was required when the home was built, I'll require they have one. They can't go back to a battery operated one," he said.

New homes built since the 1990s are required to have hard-wired detectors, he said, but those built earlier are not.

"I'm not going to go into a 1970s home and have them install a hard-wire system," he said. "We're not going to force them to spend any more money to come into compliance."

Baisden said he will make sure the bedroom windows in B-and-Bs are functional and that there are two ways out of the bedrooms.

"Most fire deaths happen in the home, and B-and-Bs are home-based businesses, and most fatal fires occur when we're sleeping," he said.

He said the ordinances will most likely not have much opposition, as the regulations really help out the home business owners, because insurance companies like to have such safety measures taken.

The two ordinances are scheduled for public hearing Wednesday, soon after the council meeting begins at 7 p.m. After discussion, the council will vote the measures up or down.

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