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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Council removes requirement for permits to burn in fire pits

  • You'll need a permit to build an after-dark bonfire.
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  • You'll need a permit to build an after-dark bonfire.
    You'll need a permit to burn off a brush pile or a ditch full of leaves during the day.
    But you can continue to build a fire in your fire pit, chimenea or freestanding fireplace outdoors in your backyard or on your patio as close as 15 feet to your house with no permit required.
    And you and your children, their church youth group or perhaps your drinking buddies will be able to enjoy that fire until 1 a.m.
    The Rolla City Council Monday night quickly acted to remove the fire pit permit requirement wanted by the City of Rolla Fire and Rescue in an ordinance that will update what's referred to as the city fire code, the chapters of the city code related to the fire safety.
    "I think that's too much government," is the way Councilman Don Morris described his feelings about the proposed fire pit permit requirement.
    Councilman Tony Bahr said he wanted fire pits completely removed from the ordinance.
    Councilman Louis Magdits also made his opposition to the requirement clear.
    Ten council members attended the meeting, and only Councilmen Monty Jordan and Steven Leonard appeared to line up in support of the position of Rolla Fire and Rescue.
    According to the proposed ordinance, fire pits are defined as "below-ground pits, freestanding fireplaces and portable devices intended to contain and control outdoor fires."
    Changes made by the council in the proposed ordinance update included a line in the definition of the phrase "open burning" that made it clear that fire pits are not included.
    The council also removed the subsection that required written or verbal permission from Rolla Fire and Rescue to use a permit.
    The fire department's desire that fires in fire pits be extinguished by 11 p.m. was changed to 1 a.m. after Councilman Magdits noted he found it "ironic" that fireworks would be allowed until midnight on July 1-5 but fire pits must be doused by 11 p.m.
    No action was taken on adoption of the ordinance. First reading was heard July 1, and final reading was scheduled on the agenda for Monday night.
    After an exhaustive, section-by-section review and discussion of the ordinance, City Administrator John Butz suggested all of the changes would be made, new copies would be distributed to the council, which could take action at the next meeting, which is set for Monday, Aug. 5.
    The ordinance revision is necessary, Fire Chief Robert Williams said, because the current ordinance has sections dating back to the 1940s and 1950s.
    "They need to be updated," he said.
    Williams said the revisions proposed by the fire department are the result of experience, research and much discussion.
    Page 2 of 2 - "They will, hopefully, make Rolla a 'fire-safer' community," he said.
    Fire pits weren't the only provision that generated heat.
    Another was the requirement that all businesses have so-called "Knox boxes," which are secure boxes that hold keys to the businesses. The fire department has a key that will open the boxes, named for the company that manufactures them.
    Bahr was adamant in his opposition to the requirement. The boxes can cost as much as $200 and Bahr said that is too much to ask of small-business owners.
    Williams explained that requiring the businesses to have the secure key boxes is not an attempt to introduce more governmental control. Instead, he said, the requirement is seen by the fire department as a way to protect the investment of business owners.
    Williams said that when firefighters arrive before a business owner or other person with a key to the business arrives, often there's no time to wait. In such cases, the firefighter must break either a door or a window to enter the building.
    Williams said they prefer to break a window because the glass is cheaper for the owner to replace, $250-$600. A door costs $1,000-$2,000.
    The cost of a secure key box is less than either of those expenses, the chief said.
    "You're making it an absolute," Bahr said, acknowledging that he personally would, if he owned a business, buy a Knox box after hearing the chief's explanation. Bahr indicated he would prefer the chief spend his time as a salesman for the Knox company.
    "Why don't you go out and sell it? You've convinced me," Bahr said, but he continued in his position that the Knox box should not be a requirement for a business owner.
    Council members also indicated their distaste with the fire department's proposed requirement that locking sprinkler caps be used on those fire suppression systems. These locking caps are also Knox products.
    Once the smoke cleared, the council decided to require Knox key boxes only on newly constructed commercial buildings. Council members did not delete the requirement for the locking sprinkler caps after Williams showed them slide photos of systems where the plastic caps had been removed, probably by vandals, and birds had built nests inside the pipes.
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