Fire rules target safety

GREENFIELD — A proposed fire ordinance calls for lockboxes containing company keys to be installed outside every business in the county, one of a number of safety measures aimed at making it easier for first-responders to help during an emergency.

Local fire officials are working to draft the first Hancock County fire-prevention ordinance, a rule book creating uniform regulations for each fire department in the county to follow when conducting building inspections and signing off on safety measures within new buildings, ensuring consistency from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, leaders say.

So far, drafts of the document dictate rules including where fire hose hookups and fire hydrants would be placed on the property of a commercial building and require a lockbox to be installed outside all new and existing county businesses, said Greenfield Fire Territory fire marshal Brian Lott, who is leading the effort to create an ordinance.

The lockbox attaches to the outside of a home or business and contains the key to unlock the door. The key used to open the box is accessible only to fire department personnel; the box itself is virtually indestructible, making it unlikely a stranger could gain access to the building, officials said.

The purposed ordinance also deals with fire-prevention measures regulating open burns and storage of hazardous materials.

While such measures might already be in place at the most local level within town or city limits, an ordinance governing practices county-wide has never been written before now, Lott said.

The county-wide ordinance mimics state fire regulations but makes them specific to Hancock County and addresses things first-responders face at the scene of an emergency, Lott said.

Having consistent regulations in place across fire department jurisdictions ensures no surprises for firefighters when they arrive at the scene of an emergency, especially when runs take them outside of their neighborhoods, said Buck Creek Township Fire Chief Dave Sutherlin.

The regulations should make Hancock County more attractive to businesses, as well, Sutherlin said. The terms outlined in the ordinance are easy hurdles for new businesses to jump and shows developers that fire safety is a priority in the county, he said.

The consequences locals would face should the new fire regulations not be followed properly are also outlined, so there is no question about how to proceed with a problem property-owner, Lott said.

There have been attempts to put a county-wide fire-prevention ordinance in place in the past, but momentum always stalled; weathering the tedious task was difficult amid unpredictable firefighters’ schedules, officials said.

When the Greenfield Fire Territory brought Lott on as the first full-time fire marshal last year, such duties fell in his area of expertise, Greenfield Fire Chief James Roberts said.

Lott was already working to update the City of Greenfield’s fire-prevention ordinance — regulations that hadn’t been changed in at least eight years — when he was approached by leaders of nearby fire departments about writing legislation to govern the entire county, Roberts said.

Before it can be formally adopted, the document must be approved by the county council and board of commissioners; it then goes to the state fire commission for final approval, Lott said.

The ordinance has already been given the green light by each of the eight fire departments that handle emergency calls in Hancock County; a preliminary draft has been given to the commission to review, but no formal action has been taken, Lott said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.