Friday’s visit to Naples by the state fire marshal marked the start of a monthslong process toward possibly changing the state fire code to benefit the city.
Dozens of fire marshals and fire chiefs from Daytona and Miami to Fort Myers and Naples converged at Naples City Hall to discuss the 2010 codes dictating how much water needs to be available to fight fires.
The city of Naples has said the new standards, which used to be recommendations, have burdened them with unrealistic and unfunded mandates.
The code states that 1,000 gallons of water per minute must be available for new homes of 5,000 square feet. A sliding scale requires more flow for bigger homes.
“We don’t think (the fireflow standards) received appropriate analysis for its statewide economic impact,” City Manager Bill Moss said.
Naples homes frequently exceed that square footage. Consultants have estimated it could cost up to $40 million to improve the city’s aging infrastructure and water mains to meet the new codes.
The city has struggled with whether to require builders and homeowners to meet the code by installing sprinkler systems or building with fire-resistant materials.
City Council delayed enforcement of the rules before finally opting to ask the state fire marshal to consider an amendment to the code.
At least three other municipalities — Palm Beach County, Sarasota County and the Florida Keys — agree with Naples and hope to change the rules after a series of hearings and workshops with state officials, State Fire Marshal Julius Halas said. They too sent letters to the state.
Those who spoke in favor of the current code said its aim is to protect life and property and should be maintained.
“It’s important because some cities are having cost-related issues,” Halas said. “Anytime you talk about changes to the code, there are going to be lots of chiefs and marshals who will take a strong interest as you saw today.”
At least two more public hearings and workshops will have to take place before any proposed change would be written to the code. Halas said that could happen as soon as April.
“There were a lot of different opinions today and we don’t know what those rules will be,” said Terry Butler, assistant general counsel who accompanied Halas Friday.
Naples Fire Chief Steve McInerny said in the meantime prospective homebuilders should not rule out building in the city. He said he has and can work with builders to meet the code as it is currently written. “Our only concern is to look at it from a safety standpoint,” he said. “And that doesn’t come with an automatic ‘no’ (to building.)”