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Chris Mehrman

File photos of a fire in East Setauket from the Setauket Fire Department.

After a tragic fire broke out in Noyac, the tragedy sheds light on fire safety precautions people should consider before unpacking their bags in an unfamiliar room or home and in general.

When the Noyac fire broke out, a family of five from Maryland was on vacation, renting a single-family home. The Aug. 3 fire, in the early morning hours, claimed the lives of sisters Jillian Wiener, 21, and Lindsay Weiner, 19. Their parents Lewis and Alisa and their 23-year-old brother Zachary were able to escape with non-life-threatening injuries.

Town of Huntington chief fire marshal, Terry McNally, said in an email to TBR News Media, that residents should “make sure your home conforms to the state fire code and building code, including functioning smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.”

“Each bedroom must have a smoke detector,” he added. “There must be a means of egress to get outside from each bedroom and hallway on each level, and there must be a carbon monoxide detector on each level within 15 feet of each bedroom.”

Christopher Mehrman, chief fire marshal for the Town of Brookhaven Division of Fire Prevention, agreed and said in a phone interview it’s important to ensure a rental property follows the same codes.

The marshal added it’s important to ensure there are detectors on each floor.

“You want that early warning to be able to get out if there’s a fire,” Mehrman said. 

Staying at a private home that may be included on a website such as Airbnb is different from being at a hotel and motel where they must meet stricter codes that marshals enforce, Mehrman said. He added while some municipalities might regulate Airbnbs and inspections are done, they are not as extensive as ones for corporate properties.

Mehrman said the first thing to do when vacationing anywhere is to check that there are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and test them to see if they are working.

“If you’re in doubt, bring your own,” he said.

Many times he has conducted investigations where it’s found that the detectors aren’t working properly. He said systems that go to a central station also have a button to be able to test them.

Both fire marshals added that it’s important for people to ensure they know all the ways out of a home or building in the case of a hotel or motel. Their advice is to check for exits and for people to familiarize themselves with egress paths, including stairwells.

Mehrman added to make sure that windows do open. He said when he travels, he finds the emergency exits and counts the number of doors to the exit from his room.

“In a smoke condition in a hallway, you’re going to be down on the floor crawling to get to the exit, and that way you can count the number of doors,” Mehrman said.

When visiting hotels and motels, he also checks emergency exit doors to ensure they aren’t locked, and stairwells lead to a door outside the building.

Regarding vacationing at a private home, Mehrman said, remember not all homes are set up the same.

“Some of these houses are very large,” he said. “You don’t know what the owner has done to the house. They may have sectioned off part of it because they don’t want people in that part of the house.”

He added not to be afraid to escape from a second-floor window as the fall is not as far as it looks, especially if one dangles from the window first.

Most of all, Mehrman said always be aware that there should be a meeting spot for everyone, and people should not run back in to save anyone or pets. Fire victims also should wait until they escape the fire before calling 911.

“Evacuating everybody is the most important thing,” he said.

The town’s Chief Fire Marshal Chris Mehrman said small businesses need to think about the fire code with outdoor dining this fall. Photo from Brookhaven Town

As the temperature drops in the fall and into winter, fire departments on Long Island and elsewhere are trying to help restaurants and other businesses remain open outside while ensuring a safe environment for customers.

“The town has gone above and beyond and continues to try to accommodate those businesses to keep them open or get them open, to increase their occupancy load,” said Brookhaven Town Chief Fire Marshal Chris Mehrman. “We have to balance between safety and allowing businesses to operate.”

The fire marshals have been busy, as they try to educate business owners about the safest way to run heaters, as well as to prepare for the coming winter.

Some business owners who don’t typically have outdoor seating or who aren’t aware of the rules regarding heaters and tents have found the rules difficult, particularly amid the strains caused by the pandemic.

As examples, portable heaters are prohibited within five feet of any building and within five feet of any exit or exit discharges. They are also not allowed on any exterior balconies or within any tent, canopy or other membrane structure.

Some business owners “thought they could just do what they needed to do,” Mehrman said. “People don’t realize there are codes and standards that we need to enforce.”

Although there’s no cost, business owners need to understand the process.

“The town has gone to great lengths to make sure they get these COVID-19 accommodations for outdoor dining,” Mehrman said.

The fire department has been working with business owners to help them meet code and permit requirements.

Fire marshals are sometimes taking steps out of order. Merhman said they have arrived at sites and conducted inspections. Even though the business may not have permits, the fire marshals conduct inspections to see if a tent can remain where it is legally.

The marshals have told business owners to submit their application immediately and to obtain an engineer’s certification, so the marshals can legalize the installation.

The town department has streamlined the process. At the same time, fire marshals have focused on the next step in the march towards winter: snow.

While tents offer opportunities to expand restaurants and bars into outdoor space, they need to be able to handle the additional weight.

“We have to ensure that the tents are going to withstand the snow loads,” Mehrman said.

On a small number of occasions, fire marshals have had to order tents down, either because they were improperly installed or because they were not going to be able to meet the state code.

Putting tents up on decks against buildings is a violation of the state code. Businesses have to have a permit for an addition to a building.

Businesses have also improperly used heaters and were ordered to remove them.

“Thankfully, everybody is complying,” Mehrman said. In some cases, the fire marshals need to convince the managers or owners, but marshals are reluctant to issue court appearance tickets.

“We want to achieve compliance, but we want to do it in an appropriate manner,” Mehrman said.

The fire marshals have been checking and rechecking on sites, to ensure safety and compliance.

To accommodate and streamline the process for outdoor dining, the town has created a COVID-19 Dining Accommodation permitting process. The town is offering a one-stop location to submit paperwork for the accommodations, which includes putting up tents.

Residents who have questions about tents, heaters or fire codes can reach out to the marshals at (631) 451-6262 or by email at [email protected].

Mehrman said residents who read the documentation on the web site, fill out the application appropriately and submit it electronically could probably complete the process within a couple of days.