September 05, 2012 - A simple council discussion over allowing a limousine service to rent some space from the Village of Oxford revealed the old fire hall is not compliant with the fire code despite the fact that it's being regularly used for public gatherings.
"That's unfortunate that a village that is supposed to be enforcing code isn't even living up to its own code," said Councilman Tony Albensi.
Last week, council voted 5-0 to direct Manager Joe Young to negotiate a one-year, $300-per-month lease with Gen-X Limousine, owned by Jeff Moore, that would allow the local company to store two mini-buses inside the old fire hall, a metal pole-barn located behind the village's 22 W. Burdick St. municipal complex. The lease must be brought back to council for approval.
Currently, the old fire hall is used by a variety of entities for a variety of purposes. The village police department houses its patrol cars in there. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) conducts gatherings in the meeting room. The Polly Ann Trail and Oxford Township Parks and Recreation both store items there free of charge.
But there's one use specifically mentioned by Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz that's a big no-no – concerts in the park. Whenever there's bad weather, the concerts – which are normally held in downtown's Centennial Park every Thursday evening during the summer – are moved to inside the old fire hall.
Scholz wanted to go "on record" as informing council that's wrong.
"Technically, there cannot be any concerts in the park inside that building," the chief told council. "You can't have a public (assembly). It's not what it's designed for."
The portion of the building where the concerts are held is basically a garage for housing motor vehicles and storing miscellaneous items.
Scholz told this reporter that right now, there is no official occupancy classification for the building because it wasn't designed or originally used for public assembly. Rooms and building spaces used by members of the public in large numbers are rated for maximum safe occupancy depending on the purpose for which the space is used.
"The one time I stopped by (a concert), they had probably over 100 people in that whole place, if not more," the chief said. "Different levels of occupancy – how many people you can have in there – have different requirements in order to have the public in there."
Depending on that number, one of those requirements could be a fire suppression system, which the old fire hall lacks, according to Scholz.
Determining the maximum occupancy would also involve finding out how many people can be safely seated inside the hall yet still leave adequate aisleways for emergency exit purposes.
"Everybody's just taking in chairs and sitting any place they want to sit (with) no aisleways (for) evacuation," Scholz said.
The chief noted, "It would be better if you took all the metal off the outside walls, so it was more like a pavilion."
"That would eliminate half the problem right there," he said. "Then there is no problem with exits, fire suppression and all that kind of stuff."
Scholz also informed council that the building lacks working fire extinguishers.
"They don't have any," he told this reporter. The chief indicated there should be five tosix for a building like that.
"You have a usage that is completely different from what the original usage was – a storage/service building," Scholz explained. "When you turn around and put people in there now on regular basis like that (between AA meetings and concert-goers), you're changing the occupancy use group, so there are different requirements as far as what they have to have in that room as far as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and (emergency/exit) lights."
"If something happens, it's all on you," said Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn as he addressed council. "(The fire chief) just put you all on notice."
The message wasn't lost on Albensi who included in his motion that the building must be made to comply with the fire code before the Gen-X buses are housed there.
"We probably shouldn't even have our police cars in there," the councilman noted. It's also his opinion that concerts in the park shouldn't be allowed to continue using the facility. This year's concert series is over with.
Village President Tom Benner expressed his gratitude to Scholz for raising these issues. "Thanks for bringing that to our attention," he said. "It should be checked on periodically."
Scholz told this reporter he didn't raise these issues as a "scare tactic or anything like that."
"I'm looking out for public safety here," he said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.