DATE: June 2, 1999
TO: Saltaire Residents
CC: Fire Protection Committee
FROM: Anna Hannon Gill
SUBJECT: VILLAGE FIRE PROTECTION
There has been much discussion in recent years regarding the importance of being able to get our Fire Department to the site of all possible fires. Obviously, adequate fire protection is something we all endorse. Unfortunately, there has been as much mis-information as there has been discussion, which has left us all both polarized and unproductive. With the mayor’s approval we formed a committee to identify, assess, and investigate the issue as a whole. In order to transcend the previously entrenched positions, we tried to identify representatives that had been known to the village as actively contributing members of the community and who were long-term residents of diverse segments of the village. We also wanted representatives fully involved in the current fire-fighting technology and how it was applied to our unique island community. We have achieved that by inviting and gaining the participation of the following individuals:
o Henry Glanternik
o Vern Henriksen
o David King
o Jonathan Leigh
o Bob Mayers
o Lenny Mindich
o Dick Starkey
o Frank Wolf
Despite the limited focus of many of the previous discussions, there are actually a considerable number of Saltaire homes located in situations to which large fire trucks do not have ready, multiple-sided access. Previously proposed solutions have targeted only one of those areas with a single proposed solution. The Committee looked at the issue on a Village-wide basis. Its recommendations are interdependent because no single recommendation, nor any single solution will address all of its needs.
Our mission was to enhance fire safety throughout the Village without negatively impacting its special character. It is that carefully evolved character that is responsible for the value of each homeowner’s property and for the treasured private, quiet and non-suburban quality that brought so many of us to Saltaire initially.
While we conducting our research, the Village has experienced a serious and damaging fire. Despite truly heroic efforts of our fire department in terrible weather conditions, we lost one house completely and several others were damaged. We believe that had we only been a year earlier with our committee and its recommendations, at least some of that damage might have been minimized.
Attached are two documents:
It is our sincere hope that this report will make clear to the entire community the real scope of the issue and the realistic and practical nature of the recommendations.
FIRE PROTECTION ACCESS REPORT
MAY 1, 1999
ANNA HANNON GILL
Saltaire is well prepared and equipped to fight fires. It has a committed, well-trained volunteer fire department. As we looked into fire-fighting on Fire Island and visited other departments on the island we became increasingly impressed with Saltaire’s position in this regard. In fact, along with only one other community, Ocean Beach, Saltaire enjoys the most favorable fire insurance rating on the island. This is due to the professional quality of the Saltaire Volunteer Fire Department membership and to its array of well-maintained fire-fighting equipment.
Insurance ratings are based on criteria established for the "norm" in this case mainland communities with paved streets and few water pressure concerns. It is up to the residents and management of Saltaire to make provision for those aspects of our community that do not fit within that norm. Now that we have mainland rated equipment and the most favorable ratings, we need to focus on supplementing that existing equipment and using available technology to level the field of fire-fighting in our unique circumstances.
The Committee recommends that the Village adopt the various measures identified here to:
• improve fire prevention and safety in the Village;
• reduce the time it takes to get water on the fire;
• provide equipment that provides maximum maneuverability in adverse conditions; and
• improve fire-fighting capabilities for fires in the less accessible locations.
We have identified specific measures that will increase our ability to prevent fires and enhance our fire-fighting abilities in our unique environment without adversely affecting the Village’s ambiance nor raising contentious quality-of-life issues. We urge the Mayor and the Board to support and adopt these recommendations which we believe strike a balance of all our responsibilities to continue to provide superior fire protection and protect our special Village.
BACKGROUND, ISSUES AND CONSIDERATIONS:
Ben Franklin launched the first volunteer fire department in the U.S. in 1736. Department firehouses have frequently served as the focal point of civic activity in the community, as it does in Saltaire. The U.S. federal government has estimated that it would cost $20 billion annually to pay these volunteers for their time. The value of what they provide is incalculable.
The state and other regulatory bodies responsible for the development of fire-fighting standards in equipment, training and procedures use only mainland criteria to develop those standards. Their assumptions include paved roads, full-time residential communities and the averaged weather conditions of regional segments of the country. As a result, our specific concerns of salt and wind dried wooden houses, high winds, exposed electrical lines, limited access and off-season and mid-week staffing are not addressed at all. Those same standards are used by the insurance companies to determine ratings by community and therefore insurance rates for homeowners. We begin the assessment with a dilemma.
The single most critical factor in fire fighting is getting water on a fire quickly. In the past, with all the positive intentions possible, public discussion has been limited to a discussion of only one problem area -- the widening and building through of Navy Walk. The committee approached the fire safety issue Village-wide, and it is WITHIN such a Village-wide context that decisions should be considered. Saltaire has several protection issues relating to access, including:
• The ten walks north of Lighthouse Promenade in the east end of the Village
• The center section of Navy Walk off Harbor
• Beach Walk off Harbor
• Pilot, Richards and Pennant Walks on the north side of Clampond Cove
• East, Pilot, Beacon and West Walks’ inaccessibility from the surrounding sides
The most common response to the issue of the walks on the east end, north of Lighthouse is that they are private walks and the Village has no jurisdiction. No one in the Village will find that a satisfactory answer if a house or worse, a life is lost due to a fire and the inability to get volunteers and equipment to it.
Our favorable insurance rating is due in part to our current larger fire trucks which carry water tanks and high volume pumps. However, the larger vehicles also require a relatively large turning radius and, as a consequence, it is difficult for the driver to make the turn on or off Harbor Promenade from Broadway, especially under the pressure of responding to an emergency. Our volunteers must have the apparatus and the wherewithal to assess the local conditions and get water on the fire quickly wherever it is in the Village.
Saltaire Fire Department statistics show that 90% of our fires originate via electrical causes. This is partially due to the exposed lines in our windy salt air environment and partially to less than satisfactory maintenance by LIPA.
The portable pump currently owned by the Village has a limited (200 gallons per minute) capacity. The large trucks can pump from 750 to 1000 gallons per minute.
The mainland criteria for equipment and ratings do not cover all the circumstances in our Village. We should reassess our criteria and goals in order to provide adequate fire protection to all parts of the Village and, in doing so, understand the attendant implications of each choice. An army does not fight a war only with tanks, battleships, bombs and missiles. They require these massive weapons and they also require smaller more maneuverable equipment for specialized situations. Helicopters, jeeps, hand held guns, small commando units, grenades, and bayonets are still being issued by every major armed force in the world. We must take a similar approach. The balance
of this document reports the result of our re-thinking and investigation. It is categorized into the following subsections:
Water Supply and Pressure Issues
Homeowner & Resident Fire Education
Fire Related Legislation
Fire Department Equipment
Village Equipment & Support Facilities
Fire Department Volunteer Protection
The sequence of these recommendations does not imply any attached importance. Some of the recommendations are simple and easily implemented. Others are more complex and will require cooperation of multiple entities within the Village. Some of our recommendations entail the strengthening or improved enforcement of existing regulations.
Village Water Supply and Pressure Issues
The most critical element in fire fighting is getting an adequate volume of water onto a fire as quickly as possible. The Village’s capacity to provide an adequate volume and pressure of water in as many locations as possible became a central concern of the Committee. Saltaire’s current water system was designed for a smaller Village in an era that had no experience with the unrestrained daily use of water that is commonplace today. It has grown over the years with different size mains on different walks. Basically, the current system consists of a 6" loop running along Lighthouse, West, Bay, and Pacific with 4" mains (which connect to the 6" mains on Lighthouse and Bay) running along the north/south walks and 4" mains running from Lighthouse along the walks that dead end at the ocean. The diameter of our current water mains determines the amount of water that can be accessed and directed by the fire department in an emergency at any given location.
To fight a large fire, it may be necessary to deploy as many as 3 trucks, each connected to a hydrant. In such an instance, the current water main layout could potentially pose serious problems in various locations. For example, if there were a large fire west of West Walk (or in a similar circumstance, east of Navy Walk), one truck would probably be connected to a hydrant at West Walk and Lighthouse Promenade and another at the other end of West Walk at Bay Promenade. Because the north-south main on West is getting all of its water from these points, the use of the hydrant at Harbor and West would be negated, because the water flowing to that hydrant would have been siphoned off at both ends.
One solution could conceivably be the addition of a new water main running along Harbor. But, the layout and design of a water supply system is a complex matter. We go into this detail here only to illustrate the critical role that water supply and pressure plays in the whole picture.
The Committee recommends that the Village retain a qualified hydraulic engineer, if one with fire planning experience can be found so much the better, to study its entire water system with a view to identifying critical issues and making recommendations for possible improvements in mains, additional hydrants, pressure, etc. The consultant should also consider other potential improvements such as "dry wells" which Kismet currently uses to provide permanent well points to which a pump and hoses can be attached to get water.
Homeowner & Resident Fire Education
• Fire Inspections - The Village should include in its regular mailings an annual notice to all homeowners of impending Fire Inspections listing the specifications for compliance with Village code. We recommend that an inspection period of several weeks be established. It would be helpful if the notice gave owners unavailable during the stated period the option of scheduling an inspection with the Fire Department.
• Safety Presentation and Check List - Schedule the Fire Department to give a brief presentation and provided a self-check list for fire safety during one of the summer Public meetings.
• Renter Notification - Require a summary of the fire regulations to be incorporated into the leases of all rental properties.
• Prevention Tips - The Village should include in one of its regular mailings an annual list of fire prevention tips prepared by or with the Fire Department.
• Off-Season Turn-off Requirements – Chief Henriksen has compiled a series of recommended steps for homeowners when leaving their houses for the off season. That list includes, but is not limited to:
• Turning off of propane tanks,
• Assuring all circuit breakers left in "off" position,
• Securing of propane tanks to the structure to reduce the risk of their moving in floods, and
• Professional inspection of the electric meter pan and its replacement if rusted or damaged.
We all realize that every ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In addition to the education program noted above, we recommend that the following actions be taken and that the homeowners be reminded of them on a regular basis.
• Brush Pick Up – The Village already specifies times for the pickup of brush that is properly put out for that purpose. Combined with recommendations for improved code enforcement cited below, we would recommend the possible expansion of this service, especially early in the season when the majority of landscaping activity occurs.
• Special Combustibles Collection – We are informed that the Mayor has already initiated a special pick up to remove and dispose of all extraneous combustible materials that homeowners have acquired over time. We applaud this move and would recommend that it be a well-publicized annual event.
• Rented Homes – We are aware of a dramatic increase in the number of homes rented each season that are being used by multiple families. While we recognize that the renting homeowner cannot control the use of his home by the renter, we can require that each lease contain the Village fire regulations and require that renters adhere to them.
Fire Related Legislation
There are many provisions already in State and Village code that need support and enforcement. This means that our local Security Force must dedicate the time necessary and must have the Village’s full support and backing to enforce those regulations. It also means that our prosecutors and judges must make the consequences of not adhering to our laws sufficient to make the point firmly.
• Combustible/Flammable Liquids Storage – While the Village code contains no prohibitions, New York State prohibits for A1 and A2 occupancies (all of Saltaire falls into these categories) the storage of more than 6.5 gallons of the above (fuel oil for oil burners is exempted). The Village should communicate this limit to homeowners each year, possibly with the notice of inspections. Fire inspections should include inspections of sheds to assure compliance with the regulations.
• Storage/Abandonment of Dead Wood and Brush – The Village code states that no brush or dead wood may be stored on Village walks or within approximately 3 feet from either side of a walk. It also states that each house be free from obstruction of such material for up to 5 feet. Apparently neither homeowners nor landscapers are complying with the code. Even when not stored in the specified areas, these materials can be seen accumulating on property throughout the Village. This is a widespread problem posing obvious hazards. A definite time limit should be established within which such materials must be removed. When brush is abandoned on unbuilt property, it often remains in place for months. If the Village is able to identify the responsible party, that party should be ticketed and fined on a daily basis until it is removed. If the Village it is unable to identify the responsible party, the Maintenance Department should remove such brush immediately. Repeated offenses by the same contractor or landscaper might result in restricted vehicle use.
• Restricted Access from Vehicle Parking and Blocking of Walks – During the off-season period contractors and others frequently park on the walks in violation of VOS codes. The Village should be more aggressive in issuing tickets to vehicles not parked in an authorized location. Golf cart use and blocking walks occurs to a lesser extent during the season. When applications for permits are filed, the owners must be advised of the times and circumstances under which their use is permitted and that non-compliance will result in automatic revocation of the permit.
• Fences – Fences can pose threats to fire personnel and fences that can conduct electricity from downed power lines increase the risk of fire. We understand that the presence of a fence complicated fighting the January, 1999 fire. We understand further that some fences in the Village are grandfathered. In those instances, the owners should receive a notice regarding the potential obstruction to fire-fighting and the recommendation to remove the fence.
• Fire Inspections – The Fire Department plans to initiate new procedures for conducting fire inspections this year to assure that all targeted inspections are completed prior to the July 4th weekend. Past procedures caused a delay in forwarding the inspection data to the Village until well into August. We recommend that within two weeks of receipt of inspection data, a notice of a fine be sent out by the Village office to every property owner in violation. We would also request that the Board review the procedure for enforcement and collection of such fines to assure its follow up and effectiveness.
We understand that of the 400 plus homes in the Village 166 were inspected in 1998 of which 26 failed, a rate of 15.6%. If the same rate held true for the entire Village, it would translate into 62 homes unable to pass a simple, common set of criteria. In 1997 a total of 183 homes were inspected of which 25 failed, at rate of 13.6%. This is not an encouraging trend.
The following are recommendations for amendments to the Village code that would enhance fire prevention in the community.
• Electrical Inspection – Require a periodic electrical inspection, by a qualified licensed entity to include all wiring, meter pans, internal and external breaker boxes, and line connection to the house. The period could be every 10 years with homes built or subject to a major renovation under 10 years initially exempt. The inspection should culminate in a report to the homeowner and the Village. A Village ordinance should require the homeowner to comply with the recommended remedies within a specified time period and at the homeowner’s expense, with a substantial fine (perhaps $500) if violations are not eliminated promptly. There could be a mounting schedule of fines if a re-inspection uncovers continuing violations. The ordinance should also apply to Village-owned buildings.
In other discussions with LIPA we were told that State code for proper connection is changed frequently, if not annually. They suggested that an inspection agency could be contracted to make the inspections for all homes in the Village and define necessary modifications to meet the revised code, by unit. Apparently, community discounts can be negotiated. One agency mentioned was the New York Board of Underwriters. We can assist the Village in identifying others if this would be helpful.
• LIPA Connection/Meter Surge Protectors – Require the installation of LIPA meter surge protectors on all new home construction and homes subject to a major renovation, with retroactive compliance required of existing homes over a period of several years. The code could specify the minimum surge suppression requirements on all units.
• Smoke Detectors – Currently, only one smoke detector is required on each floor of a structure. It is widely recommended that there be a smoke detector in every bedroom. This precaution substantially reduces the risk of fatalities in fires. It is a small relatively inexpensive measure that the Village could adopt.
• Labeling of Circuit Breakers – Village code should specify that all circuit breakers be adequately and legibly labeled. The monitoring of this could be incorporated into the fire inspection process, as are all other fire related code requirements.
Fire Department Equipment
The following recommendations are to supplement existing equipment and to provide flexibility to the Department’s deployment tactics.
• Mini-Vehicle Configured with Pump for Hose Deployment (See Note below) - A small maneuverable vehicle with a small turning radius and possibly with 4 wheel drive, outfitted with hose and a 500 gallon portable pump for quick response would have greater access to the less accessible locations thereby reducing the time needed to apply water on a fire. Such a vehicle could also be used to increase the number of locations from which water may be draughted from the Cove. Whether it should be deployed first would depend on the season and available staffing and on what is known about the fire -- in some situations and periods (such as during periods of adequate staffing) it might be an advantage to lay hose, have it ready to connect and charge in anticipation of the large pumper’s arrival, but not in all situations. In many situations, such a vehicle could provide an added capability to get water quickly onto a fire before it becomes unmanageable. Clearly, the specifications for, outfitting of and uses to which such a vehicle would be put and the routines to be followed by the Fire Department should be at the discretion of the Fire Chief.
• Barricade Gel – There is a new fire retarding product which comes in liquid form and which turns to a gel when mixed with water during its sprayed application. It is used to prevent the spread of fire and could be used well for boardwalks and neighboring structures. It can be washed off when the threat of fire is removed. The product was used to good effect in large fires in Oakland and Florida. This is one of many new products just coming out of fire science laboratories. Once this or other such products are approved by the NFPA, it might well be used in Saltaire.
Note – Maneuverable Fire Trucks
It is our recommendation that over time the Village acquire one (possibly two) highly maneuverable three- or four-wheeled fire fighting vehicles with a small turning radius, carrying hoses, gear, and a portable pump. A four-wheel drive vehicle would have the added advantage of allowing movement off the walks into inaccessible areas. Such vehicles could have access to any walk in Saltaire so that in combination with additional hydrants, any location in the Village could become accessible at least to a powerful pump, water source, and hoses. This might necessitate broadening some four-foot walks, including privately owned walks, to a width of six feet, but would not require widening beyond this width.
Village Equipment & Support Facilities
• Additional Fire Hydrants – We suggest new hydrant placement in strategic locations on dead-end walks and elsewhere as appropriate, but the placement of additional hydrants should be decided upon in relation to the above-mentioned consultation on water supply issues.
• Harbor Promenade – Modestly expanding the northeast and northwest wooden turning skirts at Broadway and Harbor would allow our existing larger pumper to turn more easily in either direction, thus increasing the speed with which this equipment could be moved into place. The manner and degree of this expansion should be carefully studied as this is a central, very visible location in the Village.
• Village Management of LIPA – There is a distinct decrease in the service the Village is experiencing from LIPA, including the intention to not replace the retiring local presence. There have been a number of related incidents:
• April, 1996 – The Hempel and Bennett homes,
• Fall of 1998 – Electrical pole fire Lighthouse between Pacific and Neptune,
• Spring of 1999 – The same transformers as the 1996 fire created another incident in the Hempel and Bennett homes, and
• Consistently noted delayed response time to get power shut down in emergency situations.
These incidents illustrate how Saltaire residents are endangered by LIPA’s inattention to its maintenance obligations. We recommend that the Village institute inspection of wires, transformers and other equipment placed by the company in the Village and become more aggressive in demanding immediate repair and/or replacement.
• Underground Wires – As stated above 90% of the fires in Saltaire are electrical in origin with downed wires being the single biggest threat, especially in areas of grasses and shrubs. Some homeowners have voluntarily had their power and phone lines buried. The Village should consider requiring underground LIPA wires for all new construction. Some initial investigation on our part indicated that LIPA provides estimates for burying existing wires and there is some potential for financing of new developments. We discovered that Dunewood requested an estimate last year. We have asked LIPA to provide us with a preliminary estimate. We recommend that the Village consider this very seriously, perhaps in a phased implementation, particularly around the perimeter of the Village where fire-fighting access from both sides of a property is an issue. In addition to removing the source of many fires, this activity would have the added advantage of greatly enhancing the aesthetics of our community.
Fire Department Volunteer Protection
• Personal Equipment – While the situation of previous years is dramatically improved, every member of the Fire Department should be fully and properly equipped with regulation and recommended protective clothing, boots and helmets. This equipment and its state of effectiveness must be analyzed periodically. We assume that any justified request for assistance in acquiring such equipment would be supported by the Village.
• Stickers for Truss Roof Construction – Truss roof failures and collapses are imminent under fire conditions, even for short periods. The safety of fire-fighters would be enhanced by placing a sticker at the front entrance to every structure with truss roofs. This is becoming a widespread practice elsewhere. The Building Inspector could determine which structures in the Village are so-constructed and stickers could be distributed during fire inspections.
We have a Fire Department of which we can be justifiably proud, one that provides superior coverage in difficult circumstances. While there is no specific fire safety crisis in Saltaire, we have attempted to identify those areas where we can and should strive for improvement. Further, as the recommendations clearly indicate, this can be accomplished without negative impact on the unique character of our Village. The Fire Department needs the support of all the official bodies in the Village and the compliance of every homeowner. It is as a community that we must decide and act on these issues. We believe that the recommendations we have made will enhance the ability of our Fire Department to fight fires and of all of us to prevent them. Given the variety of steps and strategies described in this report, we recommend that decisions regarding the reconfiguration of walks not be taken in isolation, but within a Village wide context.
This committee will be happy to meet with the Mayor and the Board or any of its designees to respond to questions or to pursue the further specification of any of the recommendations contained in this document.
DATE: May 13, 1999
MEMO TO: Martin Berger
CC: Vern Hendrickson
FROM: Anna Hannon Gill
SUBJECT: FIRE PROTECTION COMMITTEE AND NAVY WALK
Though the Committee was not created to address "the Navy Walk issue," but rather to address the issue of fire safety in the entire Village, the majority of the Committee does have a recommendation. The Walk should be broadened to six feet, both north and south of Harbor to its current extremities adjacent to the Scanlon and Schlank houses respectively. Such a broadening would provide additional space on which to lay hose in the event of fires in that location. (The current state of the walk north of Harbor requires immediate attention for reasons of the physical safety of all who move along that walk.) Moreover, if the recommendation of a smaller maneuverable vehicle with a portable pump is accepted, such a vehicle could have direct access along the six-foot walk.
We believe that most Navy Walk residents would withdraw the objections they have filed with the DEC to the proposed broadening to eight feet, and such a withdrawal of objections might well eliminate the delay in the approval of the pending application by the Village.
The Committee recommends against eight feet for one basic reason. Even if the walk were broadened to eight feet, the large fire truck would not be able to move onto the mid-section of Navy in either direction without a build-through. The smaller vehicle being recommended above could provide pumping capacity in this area (with a nearby hydrant or other water source) as well as additional capacity to fight fires from both sides were there to be a fire on Pacific. The recommendations on water supply issues and the recommendation of selective burying of wires would also substantially improve the situation both on Cove front homes, Navy and West Walks.
To use an apt metaphor, the discussion of the "Navy Walk issue" has been inflamed for too long. Many Navy Walk residents have opposed the broadening to eight feet because they believe it would be the first step to a build-through. A widening to six feet would make it clear the Village has no such plan. The Fire Chief believes that such a compromise (along with the clearing of brush for some dimension on either side of the walk) would provide an acceptable level of fire protection which he could "live with." Of course, he would add that a broadening to eight feet would provide even more room. But only in combination with a build-through would an eight-foot width provide substantially better options. However, so too, the Fire Chief would say, if asked, that the paving of all wooden walks would increase fire safety by permitting fire vehicles to move to fire scenes much more quickly.
All members of the Committee believe that the Village should take seriously the quality-of-life considerations of the Village’s residents, and that Saltaire should not use mainland criteria for deciding on how it wishes to proceed with respect to fire safety policies. It believes it has in the course of its work brokered a proposal that will be acceptable to most interested parties. A broadening to six feet along with the recommended equipment will allay the fears of those concerned about the dangers posed by possible fires on Navy in its current configuration and with the equipment currently in hand. At the same time, a broadening to six feet will allay the fears of those on and adjacent to Navy Walk who have opposed a build-through.
The Committee deliberately looked first at fire protection issues Village-wide. It did not tailor its recommendations to the "Navy Walk issue." On the contrary, it took seriously the arguments made by those most expert in fire protection. It examined fire-fighting in other communities. Its recommendations are addressed to improving fire safety to an acceptable level ALL OVER SALTAIRE. All members of the Committee were agreed that insisting that the walk should remain four feet would not serve the best interests of the Village.