Apartment, condo deck barbecues to be banned in Washington

Friday, June 4, 2004

From KING Staff and Wire Reports

SEATTLE - A new nationwide fire code is coming into effect and it changes everything from how we celebrate Christmas to the way we cook dinner.

A new uniform, national fire code will soon take effect all across the country, prompting changes in many facets of everyday American life.

People who live in apartments or condos might want to grill their burgers sooner rather than later, because outdoor barbecues will be banned on the decks of many buildings across the state beginning July 1.

The rules are rooted in reality, like this balcony barbecue fire in Seattle that nearly burned down the whole building.
Beginning July 1, new building codes prohibit the use of open-flame gas or charcoal barbecues around balconies unless there is a sprinkler overhead. The rules apply to multifamily residential buildings, which are defined as three or more attached units.

The changes come from a new 600-page International Building Code, which merges the country's three regional building codes.

Washington state's Legislature approved adoption of the new rules last year after the State Building Code Council recommended it. The council provides independent analysis and advice to the Legislature and the governor on state building code issues.

Glenn Peterson, who lives in a 20-year-old Kirkland condo with a water view, was surprised to hear of the pending barbecue bans. His unit has no sprinkler over the deck.

Deck barbecues for most apartment and condo dwellers will soon be banned. What will you do?
"I hadn't heard that one," Peterson said. "Well, I don't like that and I know my neighbors won't either."

The nationally mandated rules are considered the bare minimum. The only choice cities have is to be more strict.

"Everybody in the state is in the same boat," said Steve Nuttall, Bellevue fire marshal and member of the state Building Code Council. "The ability to enforce it, at the very least, will be very difficult."

Supporters of the new code say the dangers of open-flame barbecues on balconies and decks shouldn't be overlooked. Electric barbecues could still be used, under the regulations.

"Barbecues were never intended to be used in an open exterior deck with a deck above it and open flame. They certainly endanger the residents of a building," said Ken Carlson, Kirkland building official and fire marshal.

Flammable school art projects can no longer cover more than 20 percent of a school's walls.

State officials may still revisit the ban, as well as another regulation buried in the code: a ban on cut Christmas trees in apartments, meeting halls, stores, jails, schools, hospitals, day cares, and churches.

Like the barbecue ban, the Christmas tree rule applies if there is no overhead sprinkler.

"I think it's going to be a tough pill to swallow in this neck of the woods," Carlson said. "It's a way of life and in this area there's not a documented history of problems."

Terry Poe of Yakima, a member of the Building Code Council and owner of a heating and cooling business, said council members will discuss amending the regulation at their June 11 meeting in Spokane.

"We can modify it," he said. "You've got to be able to have Christmas trees in churches."

However, city councils that want to make such changes would have to follow a lengthy rule-making process, according to Krista Braaksma, a codes specialist in Yakima.

Authorities say they do not plan to become the cookout cops, but people's liability will increase with these new rules. Fire officials are asking for and expect to get an exemption for the Christmas tree issue in Washington state.



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