New safety rules set for construction sites | AspenTimes.com

New safety rules set for construction sites

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

New fire safety regulations at Aspen construction sites will likely be in place by midweek, just as cold weather forces builders to fire up propane heaters for the winter.

The City Council could give its final OK to the emergency ordinance on Tuesday, allowing it to take effect immediately on Wednesday. Typically, a newly adopted ordinance does not go into effect for 30 days; the city didn’t want to wait that long, according to Stephen Kanipe, chief building inspector.

?The temporary heating systems will be fired up as soon as it?s cold,? he said.

A spectacular fire at a house under construction on Riverside Drive last winter sparked the new set of regulations, which address both temporary heating systems and emergency access to what are sometimes vehicle-clogged construction sites.

Authorities never pinpointed the cause of the December blaze that lit up Aspen?s eastern sky in the wee hours of the morning and peppered a swath of snow with soot as far as downtown Aspen. The fire was ruled accidental.

Investigators did, however, conclude that a network of propane hoses running through the house were compromised in the fire and fed the flames with fuel, contributing to the intensity of the blaze.

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After the fire, two neighbors who feared for their own homes appeared before the council to urge construction management rules that might help avert a future tragedy. Had the fire occurred during the day, firefighters might have found it impossible to get their trucks to the scene, given the number of construction workers? vehicles parked along the narrow road leading to the house, one neighbor said.

The city?s new rules will apply to all residential construction or remodeling of 1,500 square feet or more and to any project involving a multifamily building (three or more units) or a commercial structure.

The project must have an approved plan for the construction staging area, including parking and emergency access. Parking permits will be issued for construction vehicles, which must be parked in a specified area for the duration of the work. The city can halt a construction project for violations.

The new regulations also establish standards for the use of temporary heating in a building under construction. Installation of a heat/smoke alarm system that notifies authorities or a responsible party of a problem will be required. Or, an individual may be assigned to stay on-site to watch over a building.

In addition, any temporary heating system and its supply lines must be protected from flames and heat.

That could mean putting the hoses that connect interior heaters to the outdoor propane tank inside a fireproof casing, or equipping the system with a ?free-flow shutoff valve,? according to Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven. In the latter case, the heating system is equipped to detect the flow of excess gas ? a compromised hose, for example ? and shut it off.

?There are a few construction companies out here now that put the furnace in first. That?s a safer way to heat,? Van Walraven said.

Temporary heating systems at construction sites must be approved by the city fire marshal, and failure to comply with the new rules can, again, result in a stop-work order from the city.

Builders shouldn?t be caught off guard by the new regulations, according to Kanipe, who sent out numerous copies of the proposed ordinance before its first reading before the council last month.

?We?ve also been handing out dozens and dozens of them as we?ve been issuing permits,? he said.

The reception to the new rules has been generally positive, Kanipe said.

?My sense is generally that, as much as we sometimes shy away from creating new regulations for the sake of the exercise, this set of regulations will have a definite benefit for neighbors and for public safety,? he said. ?In some ways, it has been a long time coming.?

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]