Project approved despite concerns

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Chet Homer got the Bridgton Planning Board’s final blessing Tuesday to build a 14-lot subdivision on the steep side of Little Mountain, but he didn’t get a similar blessing from Fire Chief Glen Garland.

The board had earlier made Garland’s blessing a condition of approval. They backed off on that after realizing that Garland’s requirement for 1,000-gallon-a-minute fire suppression was an ideal that couldn’t be met in many parts of town without nearby hydrants, whether the road grades were steep or level.

Without nearby hydrants, the fire department must rely on a tanker shuttle system provided under mutual aid with nearby towns. And even under ideal conditions — a recent fire on a straight stretch of Route 302 in Fryeburg being one example — the best firefighters could deliver with seven tankers using two fill sites was 500 gallons a minute of water.

“This setup is far short of both the NFPA (National Fire Protection Act) and ISO recommendations of 1,000 gallons per minute for buildings up to 3,600 square feet,” Garland wrote in an Aug. 25 memo to the board. The state of Maine has adopted the NFPA #1, Uniform Fire Code, 2006 edition that includes the 1,000 gpm rule for all new construction.

Town Attorney Richard Spencer advised the board that where the NFPA standards cannot be met due to logistical access problems, towns may require additional fire protection measures — but they don’t necessarily have to be sprinkler systems or water towers. Requiring sprinkler systems would make the lots less marketable, and requiring a water tower or an underground cistern would be an expensive proposition for the developer.

Spencer said the NFPA code states that “Where no adequate or reliable water distribution system exists, approved reservoirs, pressure tanks, elevated tanks, fire department tanker shuttles, or other approved systems capable of providing the required fire flow shall be permitted.”

On Tuesday, the board spent an hour talking with Garland about whether he thought the shuttle system would work. They all felt better after Homer’s representative, William Conway of Sebago Technics Inc. of Westbrook, assured them there would be plenty of room at the hairpin turn in the subdivision to set up a dump tank and still allow tankers to back up to it without blocking the road.

Garland said he’d be really concerned if ambulances couldn’t pass through the staging area to climb the hill, where the highest lot is at around 800 feet of elevation. Conway also said Homer has agreed to pave the entire subdivision road and not just the steep portion, which satisfied Garland’s concern that repeated trips by 40,000-50,000-lb. tankers on an unpaved road in the spring could make it impassible.

Garland also noted that his department now uses almost exclusively five-inch hose lines, which provides a very high water pressure. Still, he said some of that pressure would be lost on the hose’s upward climb from the staging area to the top of the hill. The tankers themselves would not be able to climb the hill’s 12% grade, the steepest ever approved for a subdivision in Bridgton.

Even though some of his logistical concerns were satisfied at the meeting, Garland wouldn’t budge on his bottom line, as stated in a written summary:

“I do not believe that a fire flow of 1,000 gpm, as recommended by both NFPA and ISO, can be achieved in any sort of timely enough fashion to provide adequate fire protection,” Garland wrote. “I am concerned about both civilian and firefighter life safety as well as property protection and with all of these considerations in mind, I am very uncomfortable with this development going forward without any static water supply in place or sprinklers in the building, or both.”

Garland reiterated his stance Tuesday. “I’m very reluctant to go against a national standard . . . they know a lot more than I do.”

Acting Board Chairman Fred Packard said he didn’t think the NFPA standards were written with the rural roads of western Maine in mind. The 31 people in New York City who developed the standards “are not in Bridgton, Maine, or Sweden, or Waterford,” he said. The town also does not have standards requiring sprinkler systems, and Conway said, in any case, “I would say that the owner would object to that.”

The board’s vote to have Garland’s letter of approval removed as a condition was 3-2, with members Dee Miller and Brian Thomas opposed.

Please follow and like us: