INDIANAPOLIS — Chesterton and Porter County won state approval Wednesday for local ordinances requiring carbon monoxide detectors be installed in newly constructed residences.
Following an extended debate over scrivener's errors in the ordinances, the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission ultimately concluded the local mandates do not conflict with the state building code and should be permitted to take effect.
That's an about-face for the commission, which rejected efforts by several Northwest Indiana communities seeking to improve public safety by directing builders to include carbon monoxide detectors in homes heated by fossil fuels, such as natural gas.
Chesterton Fire Chief John Jarka, who saw his town's ordinance initially denied by the commission in October, said he was grateful to finally get approval for the carbon monoxide detector requirement to go into force.
He said a new, five-phase subdivision, with up to 360 homes set to be built in the next few years, likely will be the town's first to include the devices that warn homeowners when a malfunctioning appliance is producing dangerous levels of carbon monoxide — an odorless, colorless, poisonous and often deadly gas.
"I think LaPorte started a great thing, Michigan City is following along, Porter County obviously came on board, we came on board," Jarka said. "I would just hope that the state would adopt it in the code."
Neither the commission, nor the General Assembly, so far has shown much interest in taking Indiana out of the dozen states that do not mandate residential carbon monoxide detectors, either through their building codes or in state law.
However, the commission is planning to be more transparent in its review process for local government ordinances relating to building safety and fire prevention that it is required to approve in order to prevent building code conflicts.
Jonathan Whitham, general counsel for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said local governments now will be encouraged to request commission staff pre-approve proposed ordinance language to prevent local officials from adopting a flawed measure and then having to rewrite it, re-approve it and resubmit it to the commission.
"We don't want them wasting their time, we don't want their local councils or commissions wasting their time, adopting an ordinance that has defects that we could identify ahead of time," Whitham said.
That's not quite the "template ordinance" that Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb told The Times last month that he wanted the commission to put out — especially for communities interested in adopting carbon monoxide detector ordinances.
But Whitham said local ordinances that have won commission approval will be posted online, alongside the commission's review and approval guidelines, for local officials to use in crafting building safety or fire prevention mandates that are more stringent than state requirements.