Safety Issues Major Concern in Building Code Exemptions

logo-w-sunburstKayla Desroches/KMXT

Fire and rescue service employees are concerned about how relaxing building codes for certain homes in the borough may affect the public’s safety. The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly is considering the exemption of some single-family residences from the building code.

Last summer the borough switched from the 2012 international residential code to the 1997 uniform building code, a change Assemblyman Kyle Crow spearheaded in order to loosen restrictions for homeowner builders.

The assembly has since been considering adopting the 2012 code again due to objections from the city council, with which it holds a memorandum of agreement to share one building department. The council has said that it will break the MOA if the borough insists on using the 1997 building code, and some members of the assembly have accused the city of threatening them and trying to wrest control.

The assembly is looking at possible exemptions as a compromise, but the process has slowed down in recent months.

At a borough assembly work session last week, Chief Jim Mullican from the Kodiak Fire Department stepped up during public comment and spoke as a representative of the fire service community. He said not building structures to code could impede rescue efforts.

“You take a residence that was impinged by fire. It loses a tremendous amount of structural integrity. It comes down to how the house was built in the beginning. Essentially from the code perspective you get one shot at it to make sure the house is built to code, and that’s when it’s being built originally.”

In order to explain how a structural issue might get in the way of a rescue, Mullican described a hypothetical situation that Crow later objected to. He compared Mullican’s story to his own memory of an insurance salesman presenting a graphic slideshow of accident victims.

Crow drew a similar comparison in the case of the former city building official, who has strongly protested the borough’s switchback to the 1997 UBC and relaxing building codes.

“The city’s building inspector spoke to the citizens last week stating that it seems that the majority of the assembly doesn’t care about people’s safety. The sales pitch is fear, the product is their protection, and the price is the personal freedom of new home builders and property owners who want to remodel or build accessory structures without having to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops or hire one of a handful of contractors that are capable of navigating this process.”

Crow said public servants need to be reminded that their job is to serve the citizens.

Assembly members were split in their reactions. Assemblyman Larry LeDoux said he disagreed with almost everything Crow had said.

“I’m growing increasingly concerned because the logic now of this whole thing has changed on me completely, and that’s bothersome, and I am now very concerned about the whole thing and that’s all I’ll say right now, because there is a safety concern.”

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Dennis Symmons said he supported Crow’s statement and his words against the bureaucracy in the local government. The issue of the building code will be on the agenda at the assembly’s regular meeting Thursday night.

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