Phil Querin Q&A: Location of Fire Hydrants in Older Communities and Member Follow Up

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Phil Querin


QuestionIn March of this year a home in our community was destroyed by fire.  During the application process with the city and Marion County, it came to our attention that the Fire Marshall had contacted the city public works department, telling them that they needed to be contacted if our community made any placement applications to move a new home into the community.  The city would not accept our application.


Upon contacting the assistant Fire Marshall, she advised that any new homes within the community would have to be located within 600 feet of a fire hydrant.  She advised that this has been the requirement for approximately the last 15 years.  She explained that although there have been homes allowed to be placed in the park exceeding this distance within that time frame, the fact that they were more than 600 feet from the hydrant was apparently not an issue.


She further explained that the fire engines carry 600 feet of fire hose, and that during the March fire the responding fire fighters ran out of hose prior to reaching the fire.  A second fire engine was needed lay additional hose to the scene.  She said that until a solution was made to be able to supply a suitable water supply for firefighting, no homes could be placed in the park that are located more than 600 feet from the hydrant.


As an older park where the homes are quite vintage, this will obviously cause a major blow to our business in the future.  Are we in anyway protected or somehow "grandfathered" due to the age of our park? I can't imagine that we are the only park that may face similar situations.


Answer.  I’m no expert on the Oregon fire code requirements or its exceptions.  I did some brief online research (the kind that you don’t want to rely on, but use as a starting point for further information). Here are my thoughts:


1. I have no idea what kind of “solution” the assistant fire marshal has in mind, but find it hard to believe the issue hasn’t arisen before. I’m inclined to believe there are work-arounds, if you push a little. This is an issue of public safety, why don’t the city and county install another fire hydrant? I assume cost – but is that a reason for your park to stop accepting homes? Your park presumably went through some form of land use approvals initially, and access to fire hydrants for the approved spaces was already considered.


2. Grandfathering is a possibility, but you’d want to confer with a land use attorney who has familiarity with the issue. When laws are passed there generally is some consideration for  businesses and structures that were established before passge. You want to explore this issue.


3. In reviewing the ordinances generally, I do see there are exceptions. You or your attorney may want to explore them.


4. I noticed that the distance from a hydrant can be expanded beyond the maximum footage when the home has a sprinkler system. If this is a new home, it may already have such a system. If not, the cost should be explored while, at the same time, verifying that the county will grant you an exception for a sprinkled home. (You might consider sharing some of the cost if necessary – it’s better than a vacant space.)


5. I also notice that measuring the fire hose distance is along the access road (obviously). I’m wondering if you could create a spur road to the less accessible homes.  I say this even though it might involve some cost to you. Why? Because knowing that your current roads couldhamper fire engine access might create some liability to you as the park owner.


6. Lastly, I cannot tell how helpful the assistant fire marshal was, but obviously she, or thefire marshal,  need to be contacted again, this time to explore solutions. As you note, this can’t be the first time the issue has arisen. I’m guessing you will find some alternative(s) that will work. And armed with this information going forward, I suspect you will have this issue at the forefront when placing additional homes in your park. Good luck! 

Member Follow Up:   I appreciate that Phil was able to research the circumstances a bit.  FYI, I stumbled through this frustrating situation and was able to resolve the problem just like Phil suggested.  We do have a home coming into the park which we are going to share the cost (around $5200) for the installation of a sprinkler system in a new 24x36 home.  The city, county and state fire Marshall have agreed to allow future homes into the park with the stipulation that they have sprinkler systems installed if in excess of 600’ from the hydrant.  In the event that we have someone wishing to have new home placed, they will have to bear all the cost. The poor woman that got into the middle of red tape in placing her home was as much as a “victim” of the changing regulations as we were.  Should we decided to buy and resell the home, the cost will include the fire suppression system. 

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