The historic Marietta community has an opportunity for some creative ideas and research to figure out the best ways to protect our business district from devastating fires.
Several arson set fires on Front Street at least temporarily shut down eight businesses and did millions of dollars damage - not to mention impact of loss of jobs, family income and affect on tourism. Another arson fire in a restaurant protected by a fire alarm and sprinkler system caused just a two-day closure.
In a proactive attempt to avoid future damaging fires - especially in historic buildings that share common walls - Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham has asked Marietta City Council to investigate ways to encourage owners of commercial properties to install smoke or fire detection systems.
I keep replaying a comment from former Fire Chief Tom Dempsey several years ago that a fire doubles in size every minute. I then was dismayed to discover the 157-year-old First Unitarian Universalist Church I attend didn't have a working smoke detector in the landmark structure. As I sat in the sanctuary gazing at the incredibly beautiful and ornate interior, I thought how the Marietta landscape would suffer if fire swept through the towering brick and wooden structure. After all, the church sits prominently at Putnam and Third streets, across from Marietta City Hall and just hundreds of feet from the Marietta Fire Department.
The First Unitarian Universalist Church is just one of many, many historic and important Marietta buildings whose demise would significantly impact the beautiful ambiance the city enjoys.
The church is now one of the 250 of 1,000 commercial buildings in Marietta that has a monitored fire alarm system.
What creative ideas can we as a city develop for assisting owners of the remaining 75 percent of commercial buildings to install smoke or fire alarm systems? The Marietta City Fire Department for years has distributed free smoke detectors to families for their homes or apartments. The city administration and council is investigating
sources of money to offer incentives encouraging commercial business owners to install fire alarm systems.
What can we learn about how installation of fire alarm systems might impact and possibly save money on fire insurance? What cities the size of Marietta have discovered innovative ways to encourage the installation of fire alarm systems?
What are the least expensive - but effective and efficient - ways to assist property owners in evaluating the best ways for them to be proactive in protecting both their buildings and those nearby?
I wish I had all the answers to this complex issue of protecting our historic downtown and other commercial buildings. I do know that we have incredible people and resources within Marietta and surrounding
Washington and Wood counties. We probably don't need to recreate the wheel here, but we need to take the responsibility over the next few months of having a community conversation about intelligent and cost effective ways to encourage installation of fire detection systems where they don't now exist.
Please become part of this conversation and help us protect the city so many of us love and call home.
Marietta City Councilman Roger G. Kalter represents the 1st Ward and is chair of the Planning, Zoning and Annexation Committee.