Article Courtesy of The St.
By Sheila Mullane Estrada
Published January 6, 2010
BELLEAIR BEACH — Equipment in older
buildings often breaks down.
But it is not often that a needed repair
involves issues of fire safety, four different governmental agencies and
thousands of dollars in potential savings for condominium owners.
The issue — replacing an aging fire
suppression system with a fire hydrant — sounded simple last summer, but
months later the 1970s-era Mont Martre Condominium has yet to find a
So far, the condominium's search has
involved the city of Belleair Beach, the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue
District, the state fire marshal's office in the Florida Department of
Financial Services, and Pinellas County Utilities.
After debating the issue at several
meetings, the Belleair Beach City Council on Monday tentatively approved
changing its laws to allow the 56-unit Mont Martre, 3500 Gulf Blvd., to
replace an interior fire pump and standpipe system with an exterior fire
Since the ordinance change would affect all
multistory buildings in the city, the council first wants to make sure the
state approves replacing interior fire suppression systems with hydrants.
"If they have a disaster there of some
sort, will the city be liable? Is there a possibility the city could have
a liability issue?" council member Mitchell Krach asked during a
recent council discussion of the proposed ordinance.
The city's attorney, Paul Marino, has asked
the state for a declaratory statement to clarify the city's potential
liability if it allows the fire pump and standpipes to be replaced by fire
hydrants — and whether a municipality can, as it does now, require
stricter fire prevention standards than the state.
Marino says it could take up to three
months to get an official answer from the state.
Leslie Mendelson, an attorney for the state
fire marshal, did tell Marino the city's pending ordinance change does not
appear to present any issues that would concern the state.
The problem started last summer when the
Mont Martre Condominium's fire pump controller mechanism failed.
Faced with inoperable fire hoses on each of
the condominium's four floors — and concerns that a minor fire could
quickly expand before fire engines could respond — the condominium
association first hoped to replace the controller.
That idea was quickly abandoned when it was
discovered a new fire pump system would cost more than $10,000, according
to Fire District Chief Russell Livernois.
He informed the condominium association
that substituting a fire hydrant would be acceptable, but that the
association would have to pay the installation and maintenance costs.
Fire hydrants are installed by Pinellas
County Utilities, he said, and would cost much less than a new pump system
for the building.
Then the association learned the city's
codes required the more expensive pump system. So it asked the city to
change the law.
The council discussed the issue in November
and again in December before giving the first of two approvals Monday.
No one is sure when the final approval will
occur or how long it would take to install a hydrant.
Currently, the only water available to fire
trucks responding to the building is through a roadside water pipe that
fire trucks must first connect to before pumping into its hoses.