Semiahmoo Marina under pressure to update fire system

Published on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 by Quinn Welsch

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After almost a year of non-compliance, the Semiahmoo Marina is on short time to get its fire suppression system in line with International Fire Code (IFC) standards. 

According to North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR), the standpipe system that was installed when the marina was originally built has deteriorated due to a lack of maintenance. “There’s nothing left now,”

NWFR Fire Chief Henry Hollander said, noting that the marina’s dock has not had operable fire suppression pipes for more than a year. 

The IFC mandates that marinas must be equipped with fire suppression piping and that fire hose connections must be located
 within 150 feet of each other.

“We did the inspection, we’ve identified where they are out of compliance with the fire code,” Hollander said. “It must have a standpipe system. There are no exceptions.”

A standpipe system allows firefighters to connect onshore fire hydrants to a pipe system that runs along the dock. By doing so firefighters can mitigate potentially hundreds of feet of dock from one source of water. 

NWFR officially notified the marina in February 2013 that they would need to fix the problem, according to NWFR. However, the fire district has been aware of the problem since the marina’s last fire in July 2012, Hollander said. 

 When that fire happened, the marina staff had it under control 20 minutes before firefighters arrived, said marina harbormaster Doug Romano. Instead of using the standpipe system, marina staff used a 150-pound portable fire extinguisher – or dry chemical unit – to extinguish the fire.

The dry chemical unit, along with two water pumps, an alarm system and smaller fire extinguishers throughout the dock serve as the marina’s current fire control plan. And they work, Romano said.

“We’re what we consider protected right now,” Romano said. “We’re the first responders.”

While the dry chemical unit is good for the initial attack on the fire, it has  limited use, Hollander said. 

“The big difference is that on a standpipe system you have full control,” he said. 

Firefighters using the standpipe system have a continuous supply of water and can adjust pressure levels. Firefighters can also use water to manipulate the temperature and air pressure, all of which can help suppress fires, Hollander said. 

Installing a new piping system would cost about $250,000, Romano said. The marina could save money by converting the existing water pipes into a fire suppression system, he said. 

In doing so, the marina would lose their drinking water source, though marinas are not required to provide drinking water on their docks. 

The marina made a proposal to the city of Blaine exploring this option in October.

“The fact that you don’t have to install hundreds of feet of pipe would save money,” said Michael Jones, Blaine’s community and development director, who has reviewed the proposal. As yet, no formal applications has been submitted.

The fire district is reluctant to immediately impose penalties on the marina due to the impact on the local economy, district fire chief Ron Anderson said. 

“What happens if we close this marina and everybody takes their boats somewhere else?” Anderson said. “We don’t want to hurt the economy, but by the same token, we need these people to put in the fire protection.”

If the marina decides to follow through with converting the current water pipes to fire suppression, a permit application must be submitted to the city and reviewed by a consultant.

“This has been a long ongoing process that we’re going through,” Jones said.

Hollander said he hopes to see progress on the fire system within the next 30–45 days.

“The responsibility falls on the fire district,” Hollander said. “Our primary concern is life safety.”