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updated: 4/8/2014 12:01 PM

Wheaton's updated building code may require heat detectors in garages

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Building codes will soon be updated in Wheaton, but the city council still needs to determine whether it wants to include a provision that requires the installation of heat detectors in attached garages.

City council members did a first reading Monday of the draft ordinance, which adopts the 2012 edition of the International Code Council's international building codes with some revisions. That includes the deletion of a requirement for a fire sprinkler system to be installed in new single-family homes.

During a recent budget workshop, however, the city council requested more research into the international building code's requirement of smoke and/or heat detection in garages that are "integral or attached to the main house."

City staff found a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that said annually, between 2009 and 2011, only about 2 percent of all residential building fires originated in attached garages.

City Manager Don Rose said the general consensus of the industry is that smoke detectors aren't appropriate for garages, due to the various activities that occur in a garage that may set them off.

However, staff decided to include a requirement for the installation of heat detectors in garages in the draft ordinance.

"This may or may not be something that is truly needed," Rose said. "It didn't seem like it was something that was necessarily widely in use across the country or in this area."

Rose also noted that modern building codes require various fire prevention construction methods within garages, such as drywall and doors that have a higher fire rating than the materials inside the home.

Still, the staff included the requirement in the draft ordinance so the city council could consider it.

Councilman Phil Suess said he was in support of the requirement, noting a "significant" fire that started in a garage on Gamon Road just two months ago.

"We were extremely fortunate that that wasn't a more severe event than it was," he said. "The comment was made that the person above the garage only woke up because the garage door was going up and down because it was shorting out due to the fire.

"My recollection is we've had at least one other garage-related fire," he added. "That's the context of why I suggest that we look at this. I just think this is a common sense thing to do."

Councilwoman Evelyn Pacino Sanguinetti said she appreciated the staff's research, but agreed with the general consensus by the industry that smoke or heat detectors in garages aren't needed.

The board will vote on the ordinance at an April 21 meeting.

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