Bellingham council ready to approve stiffer fire code for marina

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 10, 2012 

Marina fire in Bellingham

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire that broke out Friday morning, March 30, 2012, in a boathouse on the East G dock at Squalicum Harbor. Jim Langei and his wife, Sterling Taylor, had been living on their boat when the early-morning fire erupted, destroying 12 boats. Both died of smoke inhalation.

RUSS KENDALL — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - Responding to a boathouse fire that killed two people, City Council is ready to approve fire safety code upgrades at the Port of Bellingham's Squalicum Harbor.

The council's public safety committee, consisting of Stan Snapp, Gene Knutson and Seth Fleetwood, approved the proposed upgrades with little discussion Monday, Sept. 10. The measure was slated to go to the full council for a vote on Monday evening.

Bellingham Fire Chief Bill Boyd said city fire officials had worked with port executives, boaters and boathouse owners to develop tougher rules that would increase safety without imposing too heavy a financial burden.

Requirements include installation of fire sprinklers inside large, condominium-style boathouses where several people own individual slips, but that requirement will be phased in over five years, Boyd told the council.

The March 30, 2012, fire raced through that type of condominium-style boathouse. Jim Langei and his wife, Sterling Taylor, had been living on their boat when the early-morning fire erupted, destroying 12 boats. Both died of smoke inhalation.

Smaller, individually owned boathouses also will face new requirements: installation of smoke and heat vents in roofs. Boyd said the vents will slow the lateral spread of fire from one boathouse to the next, giving firefighters a better chance to get a blaze under control.

Most boat owners at Squalicum Harbor simply rent moorage space from the port and keep their vessels outdoors, but a few boaters own boathouses or condo boathouse space constructed on docks leased from the port.

Dan Stahl, the port's maritime director, said Squalicum Harbor now has 84 remaining privately owned covered boathouse slips, after 13 were lost in the fire. In a previous interview, Stahl said at least some of the boathouse owners affected by the fire are planning to rebuild.

Boathouse owners will cover the costs of any required boathouse upgrades, but the port will also face some costs to upgrade water lines for firefighting, according to the new fire code. Stahl said he expects those costs to be factored into the port's 2013 budget, and they will be recovered in the moorage fees that boat owners pay.

Stahl said port and city officials took a look at fire code upgrades that other waterfront cities put in place after their own fires, before deciding on what upgrades to enact here.

Reach JOHN STARK at 715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics.

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