WATERVILLE — Fire Chief David LaFountain’s announcement Tuesday that four downtown buildings do not have functioning sprinkler systems prompted councilors to form a panel to study downtown fire safety issues.

Councilor Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, recommended a committee be formed to determine whether codes are being met.

“The downtown is so closely packed that what affects one building really can quickly affect others,” she said.

Discussion about fire safety downtown started after Mayor Karen Heck and others thanked firefighters and police for their work Friday at a fire at 18 Main St.

The building’s sprinkler system was off at the time, despite the fact that the building housed two businesses and apartments. The building is owned by John Weeks.

City Manager Michael Roy said his understanding is that enforcement of sprinkler coverage is done by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, not the local Fire Department.

LaFountain said the 18 Main St. building had a condition attached to its use that once tenants moved in, a sprinkler system would be connected.

“And it never was,” he said.

Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, asked if there was any way to fine the owner.

LaFountain said if there is imminent danger, people can be forced out of the building.

He said he asked the State Fire Marshal’s Office to check a building on Common Street and was asked to send the request in writing and told state fire officials would get to the building when they could.

“So they’re spread thin also,” LaFountain said.

He said that in addition to the 18 Main St. building, others that do not have functioning sprinkler systems are 175 Main St., also known as the Haines building, which is unoccupied; 9 Main St., the former Levine’s clothing store building, which is mostly unoccupied; and 99 Main St., the former Al Corey Music store, which is vacant.

Some other buildings have functioning systems that are not up to code, Mathias said.

Heck suggested the committee that would look at fire safety codes should include councilors, business people, LaFountain, City Solicitor William Lee and police Chief Joseph Massey.

“Clearly, there’s a need to talk about this,” she said.

Meanwhile, Heck said the city was fortunate the fire was contained quickly and efficiently.

“I just really am grateful for all of the work that you all did in a totally professional and unassuming way,” she said, of firefighters and police.

Charles Giguere, owner of the Silver Street Tavern, which is next to 18 Main St., also thanked police and firefighters. His building houses apartments as well.

“My tenants thank you. There was minimal damage,” Giguere said. “Obviously, my staff — they still have a job, so they’re thanking you. I still have a building, so I’m thanking you.”

He invited police and firefighters to his tavern for a meal.

“Lunch or dinner’s on me. Just say you were involved.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

 

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