Archive for Sunday, July 17, 2005

Apartment fires spark proposals to update city code

Safety revisions would outlaw outdoor grilling on balconies, decks

July 17, 2005


No smoking. No fireworks. And soon - no hot dogs?

If city fire officials have their way, many Lawrence apartment dwellers who step outside to grill burgers and such on a balcony or deck will be outlaws.

Proposed revisions to the city's fire-safety code would ban barbecue grills and other open-flame cooking devices on "combustible balconies" or within 10 feet of a building.

"I think that's going a little overboard," Lawrence resident Glenn Rice said of the proposed code revisions.

Rice sometimes grills on the ground-floor patio of his apartment at Ninth Street and Avalon Avenue.

"People grill within 10 feet of their home all the time - it's a little extreme," to try to ban that, he said.

But fire officials and apartment managers say there is good reason to seek the ban.

The code revisions were under way before last week's blaze at Village Square Apartments, where fire sparked by ashes from a barbecue grill caused $200,000 in damages.

No residents were injured, though a firefighter was treated for heat-related complications. But fire officials say the incident shows the need for the new restrictions in buildings where a fire can quickly threaten the lives and possessions of dozens of people or more.

"Landlords and tenants both say they're for it," said Maj. Rich Barr, the city's fire marshal.

Some Lawrence apartment complexes already prohibit grills on balconies. Donna Frentrop, district manager for First Management - which has more than 1,000 apartments in town - said her company's standard lease agreement makes charcoal grills impermissible.

First Management staff, she said, has removed grills from decks during inspections.

Fire code

The 2003 edition of the International Fire Code contains the following restrictions:

¢ Bonfires prohibited within 50 feet of any structure "or combustible material," unless contained within a barbecue pit.

¢ Recreational fires not allowed within 25 feet of a structure.

¢ Charcoal burners and other open-flame cooking devices "shall not be operated on combustible balconies or within 10 feet" of most buildings.

¢ Most gas-fueled grills would also be prohibited.

"When the charcoal drops on the wood, we've found where there's (burn) holes in the wood," she said. "We take that very seriously - safety of our residents is very important."

Near the Village Square apartments, residents at Avalon Apartments were asked more than a year ago to remove their balcony grills because of insurance requirements.

Rice, a resident at Avalon, said he felt safer because of the requirement.

"I know there's some irresponsible people out there who don't think about the consequences and who don't use care," Rice said.

He said he's still allowed to use his grill because he lives on the ground floor and can pull it away from the building.

Landlords at Avalon declined comment. So did a property manager at Village Square Apartments.

One- and two-family homes would be exempt from the new grilling prohibition, as would buildings, balconies and decks that are protected by a sprinkler system. Very small gas-fueled grills would still be allowed.

Chris Chapin, an agent at Stephens Insurance, said insurance companies haven't required apartment complexes to ban grills, but that it's not a bad idea.

"It goes along with common sense," Chapin said. "If you want to limit your risk and ultimately lower your losses - which would correlate with better premiums - a landlord would make that a requirement whether it's required by the insurance company or not."

Barr said he hoped the revisions - based on the 2003 edition of the International Fire Code - would be complete by year's end.


Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 9 months ago

Now they're going to ban grills? What next? I know...let's ban sandals because somebody might stub their toes. Let's ban forks because the tynes might poke somebody in the mouth if used carelessly. Let's ban swingsets because kids have fallen off of them and hurt themselves. Let's ban book because somebody might get a crazy idea for another contraption that, incidentally, would have to be banned.

Life is unpredictable, nobody lives forever and this commission has got to go...

pylon25 12 years, 9 months ago

This is rediculous. I'm about to move to new complex and now i'm planning on getting a grill. I'm a halfway intelligent individual, so i dont think i'm going to burn my building down. How hard is it to watch the grill? If i had to guess, i'd say those causing the problem are either dumb, drunk, stoned, or all 3. One or two idiots cause problems for all of us who are responsible.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 9 months ago

Hey Landlords,

I think cooking on wood floors is absurd so why not provide sheltered areas with electricity and/or picnic tables for your tenants with plenty of rubbish receptacles. At $250-$400 a bedroom it seems this is the least you could do. Self imposed noise curfews might be a blessing as well.

If you want tenants to respect self imposed bans how do you enforce such restrictions? If it were me I'd evict on the spot or else what good is the ban. Not only that their deposit would be history. If landlords won't enforce a restriction and people die as a result.... LAWSUITS. Also how about a clause stating responsiblity for a fire will hold tenant financially responsible for loss of other tenants personal belongings etc.etc. It costs taxpayers a ton of dough to have emergency personnel on the run.

Sounds to me like it's time for all property owners to come together as a group and set forth some rigid restrictions that will be acceptable to the city and county officials.

First Management newer structures are probaly fire traps cuz they like to cut corners during construction so the rumors go...of course what does that say for inspectors and code enforcement.

gccs14r 12 years, 9 months ago


Balcony grilling has been illegal in Wichita for 20 years. Open fires on wooden balconies are raging infernoes waiting to happen. I'm not in an apartment any more, but when I was I was in no hurry to be burned out by a careless neighbor.

spikey_mcmarbles 12 years, 9 months ago

I would think the same could be accomplished by encouraging landlords to have a grill prohibition written into their lease agreements, sort of like requiring them to have smoke detectors. If someone causes a fire with a grill, then they could be held liable for the damages. I would think landlords would be all for that.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years, 9 months ago

I've lived in Lawrence for many years. This recent fire at Village Square is not the first of it's kind. It's REALLY easy to start a fire that way. A very responsible, sober, 40+ year old friend of mine (with a PhD) woke up one morning to a round hole in his deck. You can't sit and watch the grill all night long until the last ember has gone out.

Many of these posts seem to be saying "Only an idiot doesn't watch his grill". Well, idiots abound in Lawrence, and you don't have to be an idiot to have something like this happen.

If you are that serious about grilling, invest in a gas grill so you can be legal. Someone (Sears?) has one on sale right now for $89.

lunacydetector 12 years, 9 months ago

10 feet from a structure means that people will be grilling in the grass instead of on their concrete patio. which is safer? duh...

Ragingbear 12 years, 9 months ago

Allowing barbeque grills on old wooden patios is a recipe for disaster. I have seen a stiff wind throw hot coals over 20 feet before, and with an old building, and weathered wood, it is a situation that only makes me wonder how this isn't a more common problem.

The lease where I live states that all active grills must be located no closer than 20 feet to the building during use. That is because they know the potential for fire. The updated fire code will just tell people too stupid to realize that wood burns that they can't use thier living room to have a bonfire.

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