New building requirements approved for fire safety

Anyone wishing to construct a new building in Vermillion's downtown business district will need to follow new standards after the Vermillion City Council amended a building regulation ordinance at its Jan. 4 meeting.

The city is divided into fire districts, which each have an individual set of standards. According to Farrel Christensen, city building official, downtown districts, in particular, have a stricter set of construction standards to prevent or slow the spread of fire.

In order to prepare for an upcoming zoning ordinance amendment that will allow zero lot line construction in the central business district, the city building department and the Vermillion Fire Department reviewed the minimum standards for construction in the downtown area.

The review, Christensen noted in a memo to the Vermillion City Council, revealed that some important standards for construction were not present in the current city ordinance.

As a result, the building department and fire department created an ordinance with mimimum construction standards relating to building regulations in Fire Zone 1, which includes the central business district.

Many of the buildings constructed in the central business district were built years ago, with construction standards that required buildings to be fire rated on the exterior to prevent the spread of fire from one building to another, or, at the very least, slow the spread of fire until firefighters arrive on the scene.

Christensen noted that the majority of buildings in the downtown area are constructed with a brick exterior, and told the city council that city staff believes that same construction type should be the minimum standard for the central business district, particularly if buildings are allowed to be built up to the property line.

Other materials, such as metal and wood, do not provide proper fire ratings, he said.

The ordinance approved by the city council also includes other minimum standards designed to prevent the spread of fire and secure public safety. Depending on the use and type of building, the standards contained in the building code may be more restrictive, Christensen noted, and because of that, the proposed requirements in the new ordinance represent a minimum standard to be used only if the building code does not require more fire resistant construction.

The ordinance sets regulations calling for more than brick exteriors. It calls for a possibly more protective roof assembly in some cases, based on fire exposure or building use or type. Roofs also must be separated by a parapet wall.

Decks, balconies, exterior stairs and covered outdoor seating shall be constructed of non-combustible materials, according to the ordinance.

Exceptions to that rule include the replacement or repair of not more than half of legally constructed existing decks, balconies, exterior stairs or covered outdoor seating.

Roof overhangs extending more than 10 inches from exterior walls are to be protected with one-hour fire resistive materials. Fascias are required and shall be protected on the backside by materials approved for one-hour fire-resistive construction.

These standards don't apply when all portions of an eave or overhang are greater than 16 feet above grade, or when the eaves or overhangs are above non-combustible patios, sidewalks, or driveways which extend at least five feet above the roof drip edge.

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