‘X’ placards alert firefighters to stay out

MARIETTA – A large sign bearing a white “X” on bright red background was recently placed in the front window of the former Wine Shop at 162 Front St. – a warning to protect any firefighters who may respond to that location.

A similar warning placard has been erected on the rear portion of the former Kardex building at 900 Greene St.

“It’s designed to warn first responders that the interior of a vacated building may be dangerous and only exterior firefighting should be done unless there’s some type of life hazard inside,” explained Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham.

He said the signage is now mandated by the Ohio Fire Code to help alert firefighters to potentially dangerous vacant buildings, and the fire department works with property owners to have any structural problems corrected.

According to the Washington County Auditor’s Office, the former Wine Shop property owner is officially listed as Cathco Inc., while the Kardex facilities are owned by Promanco Inc. of Marietta.

“There are structural problems in both buildings, but the signs are mainly for us as firefighters,” said inspector Richard Stewart with the Marietta Fire Department.

He said the signs do not prohibit anyone from going inside to repair the buildings, but the signs let first responders know the building is vacant and that it may be unsafe to enter during a working fire.

Stewart, who is the fire inspector for the city’s commercial properties, said if he determines there may be a hazardous structural issue in a building he notifies the county building permit office who contacts the property owner.

Once advised of the problem the owner has a structural engineer look at the area of concern, and if he or she determines there is a structural hazard the fire department has the property owner place a warning sign at the building entrances.

Stewart said after the corrections are made and verified by the county building department, the signs are removed.

He said the signs at the former Kardex property have been placed on an old wooden section behind the main building.

Jocelyn Adelsperger, administrator at Promanco, said the company is currently applying for financial assistance in testing to determine whether the former Kardex property meets Brownfield revitalization standards through the Clean Ohio Brownfield Revitalization Fund program.

“We’re working to get Brownfield testing before making renovations, and to see if there’s anything that needs to be done to the property to obtain Brownfield status,” she said. “Right now we don’t know that there are any issues, but because of the age of the property and its use as a former industrial site the testing has to be done.”

She said once the study is completed Promanco will decide what to do with the vacated portion of the property on which the warning signs have been affixed.

Marietta’s city council recently passed a resolution supporting the company’s application to the Clean Ohio Brownfield Revitalization Fund.

Roger Anderson, who’s purchasing the Wine Shop property on land contract from Cathco Inc., said work is underway to address facility’s structural issues.

“(W)e are in the process of removing debris from the building and making plans for preserving the structural integrity of the building, but it will require extensive work,” Anderson said in an email.

City councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, who chairs council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee, said placing the warning placards on buildings with structural deficiencies is a good way to protect firefighters, but other people who may live in buildings next door also have to be protected.

He noted many downtown buildings share a common wall, so fire can easily spread from a vacant building to an occupied facility next door.

“I really appreciate what the fire department is trying to do,” Kalter said. “It all boils down to basic safety and preservation of property values.”

He noted city council is working to adopt the 2012 version of the International Property Management Code and provide enforcement for issues that can lead to unsafe buildings in the city.

“Owners of those properties should either fix it or sell it,” Kalter said.

He said other Ohio cities, like Sandusky and Cambridge, charge owners of vacant properties an annual fee-$400 in Sandusky, and $200 in Cambridge-if their vacated properties remain empty from year to year.