Proposed law could help save lives in residential fires - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Proposed law could help save lives in residential fires

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

By: Paloma Ianes, University of Cincinnati Journalism Department student.

An Ohio state senator is urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would require a separate means of egress in all dwelling areas above the second story of a residential rental property.

The measure is in response to the fire that claimed the lives of two University of Cincinnati students on New Year's Day in 2013.

Bill Beagle (R-Tipp City) said rental homes in Ohio with more than two stories are not required to have a secondary means of egress. Often these homes border college campuses, when a landlord has converted an attic or top floor into a bedroom.

If there is no secondary means of escape, fire can quickly turn the rooms into a deadly smoke trap.

That was the case in 2013, when UC students Ellen Garner, 20, and Chad Kohls, 21, were trapped in a third-story attic bedroom of their rental home in the 2800 block of Digby Street, just west of UC's Uptown West Campus. The fire had started on the second floor.

“The only safe exit from the room was an internal staircase, which quickly became engulfed in flames,” Beagle wrote in a column on the Ohio Senate website. “The 42-foot jump from the third-story window onto the cement pavement meant that Ellen and Chad's best option was to wait for the fire department to arrive…"

“Ellen and Chad passed out from smoke inhalation before the fire department could rescue them four minutes later, and the two later passed away at a nearby hospital.”

Beagle worked on the bill with the parents of Garner and Kohls with the goal of preventing a repeat of the tragedy. The bill was presented to the Ohio State Senate and the Ohio House of Representatives at the 130th General Assembly, but was not passed by either chamber. Beagle plans to reintroduce the bill, which will be assigned a new committee in the 131st General Assembly.

The measure is jointly sponsored by Beagle and state Sen. Peggy Lehner.

“They (Ellen and Chad) fought hard to try and get out of there, and they couldn't,” said Ann Garner, Ellen's mother. “You are in a converted attic. How are you supposed to get out? How is it acceptable for there to be no form of escape?”

The bill would change the fire code to include a requirement that unless a property has a fire suppression system, an exterior means of escape must exist for any area that is being used for dwelling above the second story of a residential rental property, separate from a shared, interior means of exit.

Under the bill, “residential rental property” means a structure originally constructed or designed as a single-family dwelling that is being leased or otherwise rented to tenants as a multi-family dwelling for residential purposes, but does not include a hotel or a college or university dormitory.

According to the bill, an exterior means of escape is defined as an unblocked, functional window that can be opened from the interior of a structure and a ladder or staircase that extends from that window to a length that is no more than five feet above the land on which the structure exists.

Beagle told the Akron Legal News that anything from a rope ladder to a permanent fixed exterior egress would qualify as a “secondary means of egress.”

Beagle said the parents of Garner and Kohls have found a ladder that would fit the intent of the bill that costs $59.

“I happen to be a landlord myself,” Beagle said. “I firmly believe it (the bill) will save lives.”

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