City discusses fire code proposal
WEIRTON — After questioning several aspects of the proposed ordinance during its July 9 regular meeting, Weirton Council held a work session Tuesday to discuss updates to the city’s fire prevention code.
Capt. Amedeo Mastrantoni, who is set to be the city’s fire marshal if the legislation is passed, discussed the proposals with council, noting the 15-page ordinance was designed to bring fire code up to date, while addressing issues related to the ongoing development in the city and an increase in intentionally set fires.
“It was light, to say the least,” Mastrantoni said of current code. “It’s only a couple of pages.”
Mastrantoni said, under current code, the Weirton Fire Department has no actual enforcement authority, relying on other city departments and state agencies to address issues. The proposed code would allow the fire department to work more in-step with other officials when it comes to fire investigations, building inspections and enforcement.
In addition to review by City Attorney Vince Gurrera, Mastrantoni explained the proposal has been vetted by the state Attorney General’s Office, the state Fire Commission and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
“We were able to come up with a document where everyone was happy,” Mastrantoni said.
Council focused on several issues, including fire marshals’ search authority, building requirements and credentialing of officials.
Mastrantoni said they would follow the same search procedures as police officers, able to walk into buildings open to the public during regular business hours and request permission to perform fire inspections.
“As a fire official, we can show up and make sure the premises are safe,” he said.
Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh said owners of private property wouldn’t necessarily have to allow fire officials inside the buildings, though.
“The owner could deny them, and then they would have to convince a judge to get a search warrant,” Marsh said.
Gurrera said searches would need reasonable cause to be performed.
Mastrantoni also noted many of the new regulations would only be effective for new buildings or in the event an existing building has undergone a major improvement project.
Ward 4 Councilman George Ash noted the minimum fine currently is set at $100, but said he plans to offer an amendment raising the minimum fine to $300 as he thinks it would better cover the administrative costs.
“It’s going to cost more than $100,” Ash said.
Ward 6 Councilman Enzo Fracasso raised concerns about the enforcement of aerial fireworks in the city, noting city code prohibits them. Marsh, however, said state code supercedes the city and does not allow the local ordinance to be enforced.
“One of the most dangerous things you could see, and we’re going to let them walk,” Fracasso said.
Fracasso also raised the issue of keyvault systems to assist firefighters to gain access to a building if no one is on site, but Mastrantoni said they would only be required with new facilities.
Brenda Mull, president of the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce, was in attendance, asking if there was any discretion allowed for those found to have fire code violations, in particular businesses in the city.
Mastrantoni said time could be given to allow issues to be addressed.
“We’re not out there to hammer people or close businesses,” he said, noting the hope is the code updates and inclusion of local fire marshals would help streamline the inspection process.
Local businessman Joe Stankiewicz, who had been a long-time volunteer firefighter in the community, thanked the fire department for the work, and suggested further reorganizational efforts.
The ordinance is slated for its first vote during council’s August meeting.
(Howell can be contacted at email@example.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)