BELLINGHAM - Smoke and heat vents would be required in all boathouses, and automatic fire sprinklers would be required in the larger ones, under a draft law.
The ordinance, drafted by the city's fire department, comes after a March fire at Squalicum Harbor that killed two people who weren't able to escape their 42-foot trawler. Jim Langei and his wife, Sterling Taylor, lived aboard the boat, which was inside a 12,000-square-foot boathouse. The fire destroyed 12 boats.
Fire officials briefed the City Council on the draft law Monday, Aug. 13. They plan to bring it to the council for consideration on Sept. 10.
After the fire, city and Port of Bellingham officials met to explore changes to address fire safety, said Roger Christensen, assistant fire chief for the city.
"We quickly recognized that the existing building codes don't deal with the life-safety issues related to, basically, floating RVs parked inside of storage buildings," he said.
The law, drafted in collaboration with the Port of Bellingham, has multiple elements. It would limit the amount of fuel that boat owners can store in boathouses, ban smoking in them, establish minimum standards for exits from them and require boosting of water volume and pressure in pipes that firefighters can tap into for water.
The Port of Bellingham would pay to upgrade the piping system, and work on private boathouses would be paid by the owners, said Dan Stahl, maritime director for the port.
On March 30, fire spread quickly across boathouses, and a lack of vents hastened the spread, said Jason Napier, city fire marshal. Most Squalicum Harbor boathouses were built 30 or more years ago and don't have fire-protection features that are now required to slow the horizontal spread of fire, according to a staff report.
The vents slow the spread of fire by releasing heat and smoke, giving people a better chance to escape and helping firefighters contain the blaze, Napier said. Current law requires only newly built boathouses larger than 2,500 square feet include vents, according to the staff report. The draft law would require vents for all existing and new boathouses.
All boathouses larger than 2,500 square feet would need automatic fire sprinklers.
"That's really the only way we're going to be able to stop another fire like we had the night in March," Napier said.
City inspectors would be required to visit boathouses once a year, at no charge to owners.
Under the law, pipes would have to be upgraded within two years, smoke and heat vents installed within two years and automatic fire sprinklers installed within five years.
Stahl said the port sent the draft ordinance to the 97 owners of boathouses in Squalicum Harbor. Then, in July, officials presented it to the Marina Advisory Committee, which voted unanimously to recommend approving the ordinance.
Port of Bellingham Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 21, will consider voting to have staff send the city a letter in support of the ordinance.
ATTEND THE MEETING
What: Port of Bellingham Commission will consider voting to have staff send a letter in support of a draft city law that aims to improve marina fire safety.
When: 3 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21.
Where: Conference Room, Harbor Center Building, 1801 Roeder Ave.
More information: Go to PortofBellingham.com, click on "Port Commission" under "About Us," click on the link to agenda for the Aug. 21 meeting and then click on the link under action item No. 11.
READ THE REPORT
Click here to read the staff report on improving marina safety.