MARIETTA - Marietta has 1,000 commercial properties that are inspected by the Marietta Fire Department, but only about 25 percent of those have some type of smoke alarm or fire suppression system, according to city officials.
That's a major concern, especially in the downtown district where some businesses are housed in buildings that date back 100 years or more.
"Right now we don't even know who does or does not have an alarm in their building. And we're especially concerned about buildings that share a common wall," said Marietta Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward.
City council's planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee met Tuesday to begin a discussion about requiring commercial property owners to install smoke detectors in their buildings.
"Only about 250 of commercial properties within the city have either smoke alarms, sprinklers or other fire detection systems. So the fire department has requested that we consider this issue," said committee chairman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward.
He said the city can't afford to lose another $2 million worth of buildings as it did when arsonists set fire to three structures in the 100 block of Front Street in March 2010.
But Kalter noted another potentially devastating Front Street fire at Austyn's restaurant in February 2011 was quickly extinguished and the eatery was back in business within a few days, thanks to an alarm system in the kitchen area.
"The first thing would be to try and get smoke detection in every place we can and to determine if we can require that," Kalter said.
Dave Schramm, owner of The Workingman's Store on Putnam Street, said the idea of requiring fire detection in commercial buildings is commendable, but had concerns about the cost for property owners.
"The fire department would be looking for something that could be monitored during off-hours," he said.
Schramm noted The Workingman's Store was moved to its present location because of a fire.
"In 1977 the original building on Greene Street became uninhabitable due to a fire that occurred in the building next door that had a common wall with our store," he said.
Teri Ann Pfeffer, owner of Teri Ann's clothing shop on Front Street, said it's the property owner's responsibility to make sure a building is safe.
"The fire department also inspects our building every year," she said. "Some businesses complain, but I want them to inspect my building and the buildings next door, too."
Pfeffer said all downtown buildings should be safe.
"If that means annual inspections and smoke detectors, those are simple measures we can take, and we should do it," she said.
Ken Kupsche, co-owner with wife Dagmar of The Cook's Shop on Front Street, said in order to get his county building permit he was required to install a hard-wired fire detection system when he renovated the building in which the business and his loft apartment is located.
He said the system is connected to Southeastern Security as well as the Marietta Fire Department.
"The cost is pretty minimal-a couple hundred dollars to install and then a monthly fee," Kupsche said, adding that the system also includes an intruder alarm.
But he noted requiring businesses to install such a system could be a problem for city council.
"It's difficult to tell people what they should do with their property," Kupsche added.
Rick Coley, vice president and general manager of Promanco, which manages several properties in downtown Marietta, told Kalter during Tuesday's meeting that, in addition to fire detection, the company has installed sprinkler systems in its larger facilities.
Promanco owned the buildings destroyed in the March, 2010 arson fire near the corner of Front and Butler streets, and currently owns the buildings on Second Street housing the Galley restaurant and Adelphia music hall. Both have sprinkler and smoke detection systems.
But Coley said not all of Promanco's properties are so equipped.
"When we do renovations of our buildings, we work very closely to follow local building codes," he said. "But it would be cost-prohibitive to install a sprinkler system in everything we own. It all depends on the scale of the project."
Kalter said council may consider requiring the installation of sprinkler systems in commercial buildings during major renovations, but the current focus should be on getting more affordable smoke detectors installed in more facilities.
"I think we want to encourage renovation of downtown buildings to preserve and extend their lives, but you also don't want to put too much regulation on property owners," Coley said.
McCauley echoed Coley's comment.
"We don't want to stifle renovation of our buildings, but we want to make them safe," he said.
Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham agreed.
"We need to protect our buildings the best we can," he said. "Every time we lose a building we lose a business and we lose jobs in our community."
Durham said he approached council about requiring smoke detection in commercial properties to stimulate discussion.