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Lebanon city council passes tough CO detector ordinance

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | Aug 25, 2015 3:20 PM
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Photo by John Latimer Geary McClain of Weidman Street speaks out against an ordiance that would require all home-owners to equip their house with Carbon Monoxide detectors at Monday night's Lebanon City Council meeting. The ordinance passed on introduction by a four to one vote but must also pass a second vote before it becomes law. (Photo by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- Lebanon City Council Monday night passed an ordinance on introduction that would require property owners to equip their homes with carbon monoxide detectors.

The ordinance is tougher than the state law that went into effect in June. The state only requires owners of rental properties with three or more units to purchase the alarms, which sound a warning when they detect high levels of the odorless and deadly gas emitted from furnaces and other fossil fuel burning machinery.

In addition to extending the law to all dwellings, whether renter- or owner-occupied, the ordinance also will require that CO detectors be placed in hotels, motels, rooming houses and boarding houses.

The detectors cost between $20 to $65, depending whether they are battery- or electrical-operated. Each dwelling would have to place them outside bedrooms and by the furnace.

Although most on the five-member council expressed ambivalence about passing the law, the vote was 4-1 with Councilwoman Pat Royer the lone nay vote.

The strongest advocate on council was Councilman Wayne Carey, who declared at the outset of the discussion that he favors requiring all dwellings to be equipped with CO detectors.

"As a Lebanon city councilman, the life and wellbeing of every man, woman, and child in our city is my highest priority," he said. "My vote in support of carbon monoxide detectors in all homes is based on this concern."

Royer took an opposing view. While supporting CO detectors in rental units, she said forcing home owners to install them was an example of needless government meddling.

"I think if you own your home and you want to take care of it, and most owner-occupied do take care of their properties, I think they can be exonerated," she said.

Whether the ordinance will ever apply to home owners still remains to be seen. Council Chairman Wiley Parker said after the meeting that he supports toughening the state law but is considering amending the ordinance to exclude home owners when it comes to a second and final vote.

"I think I'm inclined to perhaps exclude single-family dwellings," he said. "There is a part of me that thinks that children should be protected. But I'm leaning away from requiring it in single family dwellings," he said, explaining that would extend to all types of houses, including row homes and duplexes.

That change would please the handful in attendance at the meeting, like Geary McClain who shared Royer's view that government should not be forcing him to buy CO detectors for his house on Weidman Street.

"This ordinance takes the safety issue to the point of absurd. Personally I'm against any law that overrides a person's free will as long as it doesn't impact another individual," he said.

Others criticized council for considering an ordinance that would be difficult to enforce without inspections.

Inspections are something council Chairman Wiley Parker stated would not be part of the law.

"We are not going into people's homes like jack-booted thugs checking to see whether they've got carbon monoxide detectors," he said.

"We are not going into people's homes like jack-booted thugs checking to see whether they've got carbon monoxide detectors," Chairman Wiley Parker

As drafted, the CO detector ordinance would be enforced in the manner the state law requiring smoke detectors is enforced - when the violation is noticed by fire crews or public safety inspectors responding to a home for another reason.

The violation would come with a $50 fine, although Mayor Sherry Capello said it is likely a property owner would be given the opportunity to fix the situation before a fine was levied.

"We always give someone a chance to comply before we would fine or punish," she said.

The CO detector ordinance was first proposed by Fire Commissioner Duane Trautman, who stated he thinks protecting public safety outranks the government overreach argument. A law requiring a CO detector is no more imposing than speed limits and other laws passed to protect the public's safety, he said.

"I feel that our government has the obligation to set standards that help to keep people safe, whether it's speed limits, whether it's fire safety," he said.

Trautman gave a compelling argument of why he wants a tougher CO detector ordinance by sharing his personal experience of owning a home that filled up with a nearly deadly level of carbon monoxide after his chimney collapsed, which he was unaware of until his CO detector sounded. A city man who lived two blocks away from him was not so lucky, he said.

"Two years ago, on Quentin Road, 31-years-old, his name was Matthew; he died from Carbon Monoxide. A collapsed chimney, the exact same thing that happened to my house happened there," he said. "A carbon monoxide detector would have saved his life."

Trautman also read a letter from a woman on Oak Street who owns a semi-detached house and whose life was saved by a CO detector after her neighbor's furnace malfunctioned. The alarm probably also saved her neighbor's life, she added.

After the meeting Trautman said he was confident the ordinance would pass on its merits.

"I look at it this way," he said, "if something happens, someone dies from this point forward in a place that was exempted, how would we feel?"


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. 

Published in Lebanon, News

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