City code requires gas and smoke detectors

It’s not the most obvious of building code regulations in Williamsport.

Nevertheless, city fire and codes officials are worried that if carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms are not installed during construction or building renovations, people will get sick – or worse, may die.

Since 2009, when the universal construction code began to be followed by the city administration, a requirement has been in place that not many people were aware of, according to Joe Gerardi, city codes administrator.

Whenever a permit is taken out for new construction, renovation or alteration, installation of an appropriate number of carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms also must take place, he said.

Enforcement takes place whenever the building permit is obtained and the structure being worked on is checked later by codes officers.

“When our guys check on the construction or renovations done, they will inspect the building to see whether there are properly functioning carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms,” Gerardi said.

“If they are not there, the enforcement officer will ask the homeowner to get them installed by a certain time and revisit,” he said.

“It’s serious business and all about public safety,” said C. Dean Heinbach, city fire chief.

“Carbon monoxide gas can be a silent killers, so can smoke building up inside a house on fire,” he said.

When fuels such as gasoline, natural gas, oil, propane, wood and coal burn incompletely, the gas can accumulate in small or large amounts, and some of the most common types of carbon monoxide incidents involved furnaces, water heaters and gas-fired stoves.

“The general rule of thumb is to place the alarms in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home,” Heinbach said. “We like to see them installed outside each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms,” he said.

Typically, he said, the source of the gas is searched for and the system it is coming from is shut down, ventilation is done and the fire department has the occupants contact the proper repair service.

System malfunctions normally are the result of old outdated batteries or detectors.

“It is recommended that a new battery/detector then be installed,” Heinbach said. Battery-operated units to detect the gas and typical smoke alarms cost about $30 but can go higher depending on the models.

This year, the fire department responded to seven carbon monoxide-related incidents, and in two of those calls, firefighters determined the odorless, colorless but dangerous gas to be present, Heinbach said.

“The city averages about 23 carbon monoxide related calls per year,” Heinbach said.

Since 2008, the department has responded to 117 carbon monoxide-related incidents – as of March 31.

Some of the checks have included incidents where firefighters determined gas to be present, others were where no gas was found and some included the systems malfunctioning because of worn or faulty batteries or bad equipment, he added.