Monday, December 03, 2001

UC faces mandate to fix fire hazards

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's fire prevention bureau is preparing an order to correct what it says are hazards in five temporary pavilions being used by the University of Cincinnati while older main campus facilities are being renovated.

        “I think I can issue it (the order) right now,” said Bill Long, a supervisor in the Cincinnati Fire Prevention Bureau.

        Instead, he expects to deliver his order to UC on Tuesday, after a final consultation with a fire code expert in Cincinnati's building department.

        None of the violations he will allege is serious enough to order the pavilions vacated, Mr. Long said. He said his fears concern fabric-covered structures. All five pavilions are built of a white membrane stretched across frames.

        “It burns like crazy,” Mr. Long said. “I don't want our guys going in if something is going to come down on them.”

        The fabric-covered pavilions went up last year and could be used for as many as five years. One houses events. Another contains the food court during renovation of the student union. One shelters student government and two house other student activities.

        Mr. Long's order will reflect findings by state inspectors who charged fire code violations ranging from deliberately disabled smoke detectors to blocked escape routes to potentially flammable decorations.

        None of those problems rendered the structures unsafe, state inspectors said, but a Nov. 7 letter gave UC 30 days to correct them.

        Failing that, the state fire marshal will issue formal citations the university must comply with or take its objections to the state building board of appeals.

        UC spokesman Greg Hand said “there isn't anything really serious” in the state report. “Mostly what we got were questions, and they were questions about things the state approved.”

        A detailed written response by Lewis Watkins, the university's fire safety supervisor, is being reviewed before it is sent to the state fire marshal.

        Mr. Hand said offending wiring and decorations are being fixed or removed, and UC will add one mandated fire-containing ceiling

        If Mr. Watkins' response fails to satisfy state officials and UC opts for the appeal, Mr. Long was unsure whether the state board would allow him to speak.

        On the other hand, city orders would force UC to conform or face Cincinnati's building department appellate process.

        On Aug. 8, state building inspectors came to UC. They called in state fire inspectors on Oct. 17.

        That second inspection generated the list of alleged violations sent to UC on Nov. 7 by Terry J. Weber, Ohio's chief deputy fire marshal.


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