Troup County considers fire ordinance change

Published 4:00 am Saturday, May 4, 2019

Wednesday marked the first day of the burn ban in Troup County, and citizens caught illegally burning this year may have a slightly different experience than people in the same situation last year if proposed changes to the county’s ordinance are passed on Tuesday.

On Thursday, the Troup County Board of Commissioners reviewed changes to the county’s code of ordinances pertaining to the fire department, including allowing the department to issue citations for burn ban and fire code violations. During the meeting, county staff said they hope the update will make it easier for the Troup County Fire Department to enforce violations that could lead to potentially dangerous situations.

“Several months ago, County Manager Eric Mosley and various staff members —myself, the marshal’s office and the fire department — we realized that it is a very inefficient and ineffective manner the way we are handling illegal burn situations,” Senior Building Official Jay Anderson said. “That is what started looking into this. The fire department, if they had a call about an illegal burn, they’d ride out there, find the situation say, ‘Yeah, they are burning a couch, a mattress, trash, whatever.’ They’d put the fire out, let the violators know that this is against the law. Then they would have to call the marshal’s office for them to come all the way across the county to write a citation because the fire department did not have the authority nor the ability to write the citation while they are right there on the spot.”

Anderson said the process of issuing a citation for an illegal burn was further complicated by the fact that violations often occur when those who can issue citations are out of office.

“Most of these illegal burns are at night or on weekends, so say it is a Friday night, the marshal’s department is off duty or code enforcement is off duty until Monday morning,” Anderson said. “So, several days go by, and Monday morning comes around, and they are trying to track down violators from Friday night who are at work. They are not at the property anymore, so it is just very inefficient, very ineffective.”

According to information shared during the meeting, the text amendment would provide the Troup County Fire Marshal and his designees the authority to issue citations for violations.

Additionally, the text amendment would “establish minimum fire safety standards and requirements for the prevention of loss of life from fire, panic from the fear of fire, explosions or other related hazards in all buildings, structures and facilities.”

Additionally, it would be expected to provide “rules and regulations to improve public safety by promoting the control of fire hazards; regulating the installation, use and maintenance of equipment; regulating the construction, use and maintenance of structures, premises and/or open areas; providing for the abatement of fire hazards; establishing the responsibilities and procedures of code enforcement; and setting forth the standards for compliance and achievement of these objectives.”

According to TCFD Deputy Chief-Fire Marshal Kevin Norred, the state gives the fire department all of the powers granted under the updated county ordinance, so the update to the county ordinance would simply make those powers clearer and easier to enforce.

“The state gives us the authority to enforce these fire codes, but it is kind of hidden in a big web of state codes,” Norred said. “This clarifies it for everybody, so everybody knows what the rules are up front and holds everyone to the same rules, the same treatment for everybody.”

Under the county’s current code of ordinances, the section on the fire department is just two sentences long and does little to explain the duties or powers of the fire department, including duties that should be obvious. Those abilities should be clearly stated.

“What if we find a restaurant that we found out all their exit doors and emergency doors were chained shut?,” Norred asked. “And all their fire extinguishers were out of date? Well, our ordinance really didn’t say [TCFD] has the power to go in and do anything. So, it is very important that we did this.”

Norred said that the fire marshal’s office has worked with local building officials to protect citizens without hindering business development.

The annual burn ban in Troup County extends from May 1 until Sept. 30. During the burn ban, no permits will be issued for outdoor burning.

There was also discussion at the meeting about providing additional information on the burn ban and burn permits on the county web site.

The Troup County Board of Commissioners will meet again on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at 100 Ridley Avenue.