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Abigail Brone
Time

NORWALK, Conn. – In the fall, retail buildings and multi-family homes in the city may be required to post signs detailing the type of structure to help firefighters in the event of a fire.

The City Council’s Ordinances Committee has moved forward with plans to require mixed-use apartments or houses with three or more family units to display signage with the composition of the building.

If the ordinance passes, Norwalk will require small circular signs to be placed on the facades of certain buildings or near the location of the sprinkler system.  Buildings are separated into five categories.

If the ordinance passes, Norwalk will require small circular signs to be placed on the facades of certain buildings or near the location of the sprinkler system. Buildings are separated into five categories. (Photo/Norwalk Fire Department)

“It’s about firefighters entering non-residential buildings,” said Brian Candela, the company’s assistant attorney. “There is a sign that can be placed on the front part of the building that will identify it to firefighters. They will be able to read it and understand the type of construction of the building and that is important because it lets them know how long they got inside before the building was potentially dangerous.”

The new order has been in the works since around mid-March, months before a 7-year-old girl was recently killed in a house fire.

Although the signage will protect firefighters, the public and building integrity, the signs would have made no difference in the Nelson Avenue fire that killed Summer Fawcett, Sawyer said.

“The signs would have had no bearing on this fire. The house was wood frame, like most single family homes, which we usually recognize when we respond,” Sawyer said. “There are many variables in our strategy and tactics during a structural fire. Firefighter Safety Building Marking System signs help identify the construction of floors and/or roof trusses.”

Building owners can contact the fire marshal’s office for help determining which sign is right for each building, Candela said.

The small circular signs will be placed at the front of buildings or near where the sprinkler system is, said Fire Marshal Broderick Sawyer.

Buildings are separated into five categories, based on the type of structural framework and its composition, Sawyer said.

Type one is “fire resistant,” type two is noncombustible, type three is “plain” and type four is heavy wood, Sawyer said. Type five is a plain wood frame commonly found in single family homes or duplexes.

“Heavy wood is fire resistant. Take a building like 25 Grant St., over the years it was a factory, heavy wood, there were a lot of renovations and now it’s a mix of construction “Sawyer said. “So we like to identify what a building like that would be like.”

Ordinary construction includes strip malls and storefronts, often with apartments above stores, Sawyer said. These types of buildings also often have collapse problems.

“It changes our tactics. If we know how long the fire has been burning, do we put someone on the roof? How are we going to attack this fire?” Sawyer said. “It’s a very good way to ensure the safety not only of the firefighters, but also of the public.”

The signs won’t be needed for single or two-family homes because they are outside the fire marshal’s jurisdiction under state law, Sawyer said. The jurisdiction of the fire marshal in ordinary homes is smoke detectors and means of escape, Sawyer said.

The city’s property database includes the building’s construction type and can be viewed publicly, but the signs will help firefighters identify the building type immediately.

“Some questions we might ask upon arrival are: is everyone out? How long has the fire been burning? A decision is then made. Is this an effort indoor or outdoor fire suppression?” Sawyer said. “The Norwalk Fire Department is well trained in indoor fire suppression, so we come in to put out the fire at their headquarters. This firefighter safety marking is truly another tool in the toolbox for first-time firefighters.”

The signs cost about $40 and, if the ordinance is approved, will go into effect Nov. 1.

The ordinance requiring the signs is set for a public hearing at the next ordinance committee meeting in June.

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