The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Fire Safety Ordinance 2016-01 Tuesday morning by a vote of 4-0. Commissioner Ted Schindler was not present.
The ordinance calls for the registration and inspection of “Transient, Vacation, Short-Term, Timeshare rentals, and Non-Owner Occupied Two Family Homes.”
The definitions of those types of properties were a concern for several residents who spoke at the meeting Tuesday.
Condo owners Gerry Lentz and George Repetti expressed concern that the ordinance might apply to units in their condo buildings.
Donna Sage of Vacation Resorts International expressed concern that timeshare properties were included and that properties would be required to post occupancy limits and provide a fire extinguisher in each unit.
“We tell residents that if there is a fire, to get out. I don’t see a purpose for an extinguisher. We don’t want them to fight the fire.”
Martin said that state fire code calls for a small extinguisher in each unit. “A small kitchen extinguisher can work with a grease fire. You don’t want people to grab a glass of water and throw it on a grease fire…Yes, we want people to get out. We don’t want them to fight a fire, that’s our job.”
“I think that’s a dream world,” responded Sage. “Most people would run.”
Fire Marshal Ron Martin explained that if the primary license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for the building is as a condominium, they are already covered under the Fire Prevention Code and are already subject to regular inspections. Condos and time-share units would not be subject to the new ordinance so long as their primary license is as a condo.
A property owner on Fairweather who rents his unit out offered several thoughts on the ordinance.
“The Fire Department does a great job. The death at the duplex was tragic. Deaths that occur on the road and by criminals are also tragic. Is another ordinance the answer? We have thousands of pages of new rules each year.
“Every one of these new ordinances is a small incremental loss of our liberty. Will it really help? Will it stop a guy who wants to smoke in bed? … What is the chance that this ordinance grows and grows and its costs go up and up?”
Repetti asked the board to add a definition section to the ordinance to clarify what the terms mean.
Will Lankford, close friend of Joanne Finney, who died in a duplex fire last May, spoke to the board, thanking them for taking action on the Fire Safety ordinance.
“Several people have mentioned the inconvenience of the ordinance. If there’s any question of inconvenience, I can’t think of anything more inconvenient than losing a loved one.”
Ed Milde expressed support for the new ordinance, mentioning that he lived in a rental property for years on the beach that had fire safety problems but was never inspected.
“This ordinance is extremely important for those not covered by other ordinances or laws…If people are renting these homes out as a business, they should be held to some standard,” Milde said. “Simple things like smoke detectors are not out of the realm. If they don’t have inspections for properties that are being used as a business, then they shouldn’t be renting them out.”
Annie Babcock also spoke in support of the ordinance. “The sooner this is put into effect, the sooner safety will prevail.” She urged the publication of fire code violations, saying that people living near rentals not in compliance should know about them. She also urged the district to provide a list of items that inspectors will be looking for.
Martin responded, explaining that inspectors will focus on three principal concerns: exits, how people are alerted in case of a fire and how they are protected once they are aware of an emergency. He also said the district would create a pre-inspection checklist.
After discussion, the board agreed to adopt the ordinance with the addition of a definitions section and mention that condos are excluded. The effective date is March 1, 2016. The new ordinance will be posted on the district’s website, www.fmbfire.org.
The district will purchase approximately $16,000 worth of exercise equipment, primarily for Station 33 along with some minor exercise equipment for the other stations, but opted to delay a decision on a Peer Fitness program until new Fire Chief Matt Love’s arrival.
Morris noted that the district had received a new summons from former Chief Darren White’s attorney regarding a Breach of Contract lawsuit. She said the board’s attorney had contacted board members requesting a “meeting in the shade” in order to discuss a response to the summons. Florida Sunshine Laws allow an open meetings exemption for meetings to discuss litigation strategy. The meeting must be noticed and a verbatim account recorded. Only litigation strategy may be discussed. Once the litigation is resolved, the meeting notes become public record.
Morris commented on the summons.
“There’s absolutely nothing in the accusations that is correct. Everything that’s being stated is incorrect. The paragraphs cited are not accurate. Three-four attorneys have looked at this and said there is not a case here, but if it goes to court there are bleeding hearts on the jury.”
In a 4-0 vote the board opted to hold a meeting, tentatively scheduled for February 15 at 10am, with their lawyer to discuss their next move.
The next regular Fire Board meeting will be at 6pm February 16, 2016 at Station 31, 3043 Estero Blvd. Parking is available at the District’s Admin offices located at 100 Voorhis St.