City seeks to in­crease rate of raz­ing con­demned homes

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page - By Tia Lyons Staff Writer

Raz­ing con­demned struc­tures in the city serves as an in­fill job for the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works — which means city crews can’t de­mol­ish such struc­tures at a rate they would like.

While mem­bers of the El Do­rado Fire Depart­ment said they would like to of­fer more as­sis­tance in tak­ing down such struc­tures around the city, fire­fight­ers said the struc­tures must first pass muster from state’s en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tory agency.

Dur­ing an El Do­rado City Coun­cil meet­ing Nov. 9, Mayor Frank Hash im­plored the fire depart­ment to “do some­thing” to as­sist the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works in rid­ding the city con­demned struc­tures.

At the time, Fire Chief Chad Mosby ex­plained that the Arkansas Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity has tight­ened over­sight of such ac­tions.

“It was not un­com­mon for fire de­part­ments to burn di­lap­i­dated build­ings. When I started in the '90s, we were burn­ing three or four a day, but ADEQ clamped down on it at some point,” Mosby said.

Like the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works, the EFD has to ap­ply to the ADEQ for spe­cial ap­proval to raze a con­demned prop­erty, and the fire depart­ment has to con­sider other risk fac­tors in order to use such a prop­erty for live-fire train­ing.

Mosby said ADEQ stepped up en­force­ment of such ac­tions years ago.

“It made us have to jump through more hoops,” Mosby said.

Mosby and Fire Mar­shal Ja­son Evans ex­plained that sev­eral con­di­tions and stan­dards must be met be­fore the fire depart­ment can burn a con­demned struc­ture.

They said ADEQ and the National Fire Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion sets the stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions, and when the EFD is con­sid­er­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion to ADEQ , fire­fight­ers must first con­duct a risk assess­ment for a

prop­erty.

For in­stance, the build­ings must be struc­turally sound, the roof, walls, ceil­ings, floors must not have any holes, the stairs must be in good con­di­tion and the en­trances and ex­its must be clear.

The fire depart­ment and Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works must also file No­tices of In­tent with ADEQ for as­bestos test­ing and abate­ment.

“We have to make sure there’s noth­ing toxic in the house — as­bestos or if there are a bunch of paints and chem­i­cals be­ing stored there,” Evans said.

Other fac­tors the fire depart­ment must con­sider are proper ven­ti­la­tion and the prox­im­ity of the con­demned struc­tures to other houses, build­ings, power lines, wa­ter sources, ve­hi­cles, etc.

Mosby and Evans said it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to get ap­proval from ADEQ for live-fire train­ing in pop­u­lated ar­eas, such as El Do­rado city lim­its.

Evans re­called an in­stance in which the EFD was con­sid­er­ing a con­demned prop­erty for burn­ing, but the fire depart­ment was pro­hib­ited be­cause while the con­demned struc­ture was free of as­bestos, it was too close to a house where as­bestos was present.

“A lot of lots are pretty small in town, and they’re close to other struc­tures. The last thing you want to do is dam­age some­one else’s prop­erty,” Mosby said.

He said the fire depart­ment was li­able for dam­ages in one in­stance in which ra­di­ant heat melted the vinyl sid­ing off a house that was next door to a con­demned struc­ture that was be­ing used for live­fire train­ing.

“You some­times dam­age prop­erty in a real fire sit­u­a­tion. In an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion, you can ex­pect that, but you don’t want to do it with train­ing,” Evans said.

Air qual­ity and pol­lu­tion control is an­other mat­ter with which the EFD has to con­tend.

Evans and Robert Ed­monds, di­rec­tor of pub­lic works, said the ap­pli­ca­tion process with ADEQ usu­ally takes about 10 days.

“You have to let them know how long you’re go­ing to be at a site, when the waste is go­ing to be cleaned up, who haul­ing off the waste,” Evans said. “If we don’t fol­low those guide­lines, we could be fined, and those fines can be costly for the city.”

Evans and Mosby said the EFD works closely with Code En­force­ment Of­fi­cer Kirby Craig to find suit­able struc­tures for burn­ing.

“Our re­la­tion­ship code en­force­ment is unique, prob­a­bly from a lot of other cities be­cause Kirby Craig is re­tired from the fire depart­ment,” Mosby said.

“With him hav­ing been in­volved in fire train­ing as well, he un­der­stands the cri­te­ria,” the fire chief con­tin­ued. “He’s proac­tive. He comes to us and tells us when he’s found a house that he thinks meets the cri­te­ria.”

Mosby said the EFD has typ­i­cally av­er­aged about one or two houses per year for which the depart­ment re­ceives ap­proval from ADEQ to use for live-fire train­ing.

He said the depart­ment has not re­ceived spe­cial ap­proval on the ac­tion this year be­cause while many houses met ADEQ and NFPA struc­tural cri­te­ria, they were too close to other struc­tures to burn.

“Usu­ally when we ap­ply for it, we can get it be­cause we know what we have to have,” Evans said.

For con­demned houses that can’t be used for burn­ing, Mosby said the EFD of­ten uses them for other types of train­ing, in­clud­ing forced en­try and search and res­cue.

Evans said the fire depart­ment rou­tinely re­ceives calls from cit­i­zens ask­ing if fire­fight­ers can burn an aban­doned prop­erty.

“If we could, we would do rou­tine burn­ings to help clean up neigh­bor­hoods,” added Mosby. “From our stand­point, we would love have plenty of house that we can get ap­proval on from ADEQ be­cause noth­ing beats live-fire train­ing, not only for new fire­fight­ers, but also for older fire­fight­ers to re­in­force their ba­sic train­ing. We’re the only ca­reer fire depart­ment in (Union County).”

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