Payson Councilor Responds To Fire Code Editorial


by John R. Wilson, council member

Perhaps you should read the proposed international code and Firewise codes more closely.

First: In reading the international code, I received the distinct impression that they compiled every mistake in building that anyone ever made or could make and created a rule to cover that procedure. If the same type of procedure was covered in a different section of the code that rule was repeated word for word in that section.

Second: The amendments to the Firewise code were missed because they were in an entirely different section of the four-inch book as a part of the discussion of the building codes and were not associated with the Firewise code section.

Third: I did not say that the code would give people like the fire chief and the fire marshal too much power. I did not mention them at all; neither did the Firewise code. Part 2 – Administrative Provisions of this code create an entirely new enforcement agency for the Town (or whatever jurisdiction adopts it) granting to the “code official” the power to interpret the provisions of the code and adopt policies and procedures to “clarify” the application of its provisions. Many times throughout the code the authority of the “code official” to make interpretations is repeated.

It also states that the “code official, in concurrence with the approval of the building official and the fire chief is authorized to approve alternative materials or methods, provided ….” So it is not the fire chief or fire marshal making these decisions.

As we have seen at all levels of government where a person has been given the authority to interpret the code they are enforcing, the tendency is to interpret it strictly or narrowly rather than how can we do this to get the job done from the intent of the code. We have seen this most graphically with the Forest Service with both the college property and the water line. We have seen this with the Internal Revenue Service with their Exempt Organization Division. We have seen our own Town’s Community Development Depart­ment and the changes necessary to change our image to a more business friendly community.

These are the reasons why I believe that this Firewise code is not the vehicle to make our community more Firewise. We need to establish a reasonable, enforceable, and less draconian means of accomplishing what needs to be done.

Editor’s note:

Councilor Wilson correctly observes the international fire code is wordy and redundant. That’s why the town planning staff spent months developing streamlined language and eliminating repetition, which the fire department urged the council to adopt.

We’re not sure we grasp Mr. Wilson’s distinction between the power of the fire chief to interpret the code and the power of a code official in consultation with the fire chief to interpret the code. Certainly, building code and fire department officials have legal responsibility for interpreting the language of the fire code. Does Mr. Wilson want no one to have such authority? Wouldn’t that bog things down even more — and perhaps result in an unreasonable and literal interpretation? The town at one time had a fire marshal with the authority to interpret fire codes while approving plans and making inspections but the council eliminated the fire marshal position.

But if Mr. Wilson simply doesn’t like the language of the international wildlands fire code, we certainly hope he’ll write a version he does like and push for its adoption. We’re less concerned with the language than whether the buildings added to the housing stock by the time we hit build-out are as fire-resistant.

In the meantime, we hope the council will find a way to work with homeowners to thin the brush and thickets of trees that could destroy this town the next time a wildfire like the Wallow Fire — or even the Water Wheel Fire — makes a run at the town.


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