Daycare owners decry fire safety rules
Montgomery County Commissioners Court temporarily suspended new county fire standards for daycare centers after three East County facilities complained that the new requirements could run them out of business.
It would affect us," said Scott Ely, owner of Busy Barn Child Care. We would have to pass on the cost to our customers. We would have to raise our rates and it would drive them out of here. They would try alternative day care, and it wouldn't be a good situation for the kids."
But the rules in questions were handed down by the Texas Department of Health Services for day cares and were not issued by the county. The Montgomery County Fire Marshal's Office provides annual inspection on the state life safety codes, which are leading to the changes.
It's a state rule on existing day care buildings," said County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams.
The state requires that commercial day care centers, those that care for more than 13 children, install manual fire alarm systems with a pull stations at each exit as well as a horn and strobe lights in each room. Those will more than 100 children are required to have systems monitored by fire departments.
Three East County day care providers said the new alarm system would cost between $6,000 and $10,000 at their facility, an expense they cannot afford in this tight economic market. This would lead to overpriced day care and more latchkey kids in the system.
The day care owners believed the change was due to new fire codes adopted by the county in 2007, which requires the installation of a fire alarm system in new or substantially renovated day care facilities. But, in fact, the retrofit for existing day care facilities was handed down by the state, Williams said.
The court suspended the county fire standards for day care centers until the issue could be resolved.
We are not sitting up here saying that we are not concerned with kids," said Commissioner Ed Rinehart of Precinct 4. We are also concerned that we don't want to put small businesses out of business. We don't want to force six to eight year olds kids to go home by themselves."
Becky Williams of Kiddie Cabin said her day care met county and state standards when it opened in 2005 and it includes smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detector and exit lights. She believed that the change was triggered by renovations to her facility because of damage from Hurricane Ike.
But the Texas Department of Health Services, which regulates many businesses like hospitals, nursing homes and day care facilities, recently upgraded it standards and requires annual inspection by a state or county fire inspectors. Those inspections are done by the Montgomery County Fire Marshal's Office, who can issue the state violations.
State Life Safety Code Changes
The Montgomery County Fire Marshal's Office is responsible for conducting Life Safety Inspections of existing daycare homes as part of the state licensing process. These inspections are conducted utilizing the 2006 National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code. The 2006 Life Safety Code was recently adopted by the State of Texas, and the requirements for existing daycares can be found in Chapter 17.
Among the requirements for commercial day care centers, those caring for more than 13 children are:
Centers be provided with a fire alarm system with manual activation
Includes a pull station on each floor near the exits
Includes horn and strobe device in each room
Those will more than 100 children must include a monitoring system by local fire department.
Source: Montgomery County Fire Marshal's Office
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