State commission rejects Region community efforts to require carbon monoxide detectors

Michigan City Fire Marshal Kyle Kazmierczak observes the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission Tuesday in Indianapolis as the commission votes to prevent a Michigan City ordinance from taking effect that would require newly built residences be outfitted with carbon monoxide detectors.

Dan Carden, The Times

INDIANAPOLIS — A state commission is continuing to thwart efforts by Northwest Indiana communities to improve public safety by requiring carbon monoxide detectors be installed in residential properties.

The Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to reject Michigan City's carbon monoxide detector ordinance, and agreed to postpone action on a more stringent ordinance recently approved by adjacent St. Joseph County.

It also did not take up an appeal filed by Chesterton after the commission rejected its ordinance Oct. 3.

Only LaPorte has won approval to require carbon monoxide detectors in new residential construction, though it took three tries to enact.

State law mandates the 11-member commission — which includes no Region residents — approve local ordinances that may conflict with the state building code and fire safety laws before the ordinances can take effect.

Commission Director Douglas Boyle deemed the Michigan City ordinance defective due to its immediate effective date and other general "language" issues.

He seemed to suggest the commission would allow a corrected ordinance to take effect if the City Council approved one, but he repeatedly declined to tell Michigan City Fire Marshal Kyle Kazmierczak what exactly would pass muster with the commission.

Kazmierczak said he's extremely frustrated by the panel, which he described as "inept" since it primarily is made up of building and construction industry representatives and only includes two firefighters.

"Until there's parity there these ordinances will never be enacted," Kazmierczak said. "What they're doing, in my opinion, is trying to draw it out as long as possible so we just go away."

However, Kazmierczak insisted he won't be going away, since the need for Hoosiers to be protected from carbon monoxide dangers is too important to ignore.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas produced by malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances that kills approximately 170 Americans each year and sends thousands more to emergency rooms.

"For firefighters, it's simple: Give us the tools to do our job and let us do our job," Kazmierczak said. "And this is a tool to let us do our job."

The commissioners appeared more opposed to the St. Joseph County ordinance that would require new and existing homes, as well as some 32,000 rental units, have carbon monoxide detectors, similar to the state law that mandates smoke detectors in all residential dwellings.

"There's no way that you could police this by any means," said Commissioner Gregory Furnish, a homebuilder from Memphis, Indiana.

Kazmierczak said the commission could resolve the issue by creating a template ordinance that communities could adopt if they want to require carbon monoxide detectors for safety, as well as allowing already enacted local ordinances to take effect in the interim.

He also supports the General Assembly simply taking the issue out of the commission's hands by having Indiana join the 27 states, including Illinois and Michigan, that require residential carbon monoxide detectors by law.

"I don't understand why Indiana always has to be reactive, instead of proactive," Kazmierczak said.

Hoosier lawmakers — wary of government mandates — repeatedly have resisted proposals to require carbon monoxide detectors in Indiana homes.

In 2014, the Republican-controlled General Assembly even scuttled a proposal to have home inspectors merely advise homeowners of the benefits of a carbon monoxide detector.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.