Pitkin County to adopt fire code

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – Area fire officials on Tuesday convinced Pitkin County commissioners to adopt the International Fire Code, putting some teeth into the enforcement of fire department edicts.

Commissioners directed staffers to draft an ordinance adopting the code, which will become enforceable as part of the county’s building code.

Without the action, fire officials find themselves “bluffing” when they issue orders regarding compliance with the code in the unincorporated areas of the county, said Scott Thompson, Basalt fire chief.

“We’re telling people to stop their unauthorized burn, but we have no teeth,” he said. “Right now, we cannot even regulate open burning, and we know how dangerous that can be. We go out and ask for voluntary compliance and in this community, thankfully, most people comply.”

Currently, Basalt fire officials are dealing with a subdivision that is supposed to have a pond and a hydrant for fire suppression, but the pond is empty, added Bill Harding, Basalt fire marshal.

“I don’t really have any direct enforcement capability to enforce this pond,” he said.

If someone in the unincorporated county wants to legally challenge a directive from any of the four fire districts that cover various parts of the county, there is no county fire code to back up the edict, commissioners were told.

“We have not adopted anything that can be formally enforced,” said Jon Peacock, county manager.

The Aspen, Basalt, Snowmass and Carbondale fire districts all cover different parts of unincorporated Pitkin County as part of their jurisdictions. Other area counties and municipalities have adopted the international code, leaving Pitkin County as the sole hold-out.

“We have to plug this hole. Pitkin County’s the hole,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said.

Some issues related to fire safety already exist in the county’s building code and many elements in the International Fire Code have long been addressed by the fire districts though the county hasn’t adopted the code, according to Tony Fusaro, chief building official.

When fire officials last asked the county to adopt the fire code, commissioners suggested the districts come up with one code that would apply throughout the county.

“It just turns out there’s no one-size-fits-all,” Fusaro said.

Instead, both Aspen and Basalt have modified the 2009 international code to fit their needs, which is permitted. The 2009 code is the most recent version.

“What we’re proposing is nothing we haven’t been doing for the last 22 years,” said Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven.

Adopting the code will, however, give fire districts a say on one matter that is currently the county’s call in some instances – the requirement of fire sprinklers in situations when the land-use code does not require them, said Lance Clarke, deputy director of community development.

He offered the former Woody Creek trailer park as an example. Aspen fire officials wanted to require that homes in the park have sprinklers, given the close quarters in the subdivision and the tight roadway through it. The county decided not to require sprinklers.

Under the code, that would no longer be the county’s decision, Clarke said.


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