The stage was set for the City Council to take action on a revised ordinance that would require sprinklers in new commercial buildings and some renovated structures.

Before the expected vote, council members watched a video, "Fire Power," a National Fire Prevention Association production extolling the virtues of residential sprinklers and showing the immediate and fatal hazards of fire.

Then their ears turned to John M. Best, Montgomery County fire marshal, who showed up to encourage the council to enact its revised ordinance and to consider requiring sprinkler systems in all residential dwellings.

"It's the answer to the fire problem," he said. "The community has to share the fire problem. With all the best efforts, (firefighters) don't go (to a fire) until someone calls."

But just as the council was about to vote on the proposed revision Monday, City Attorney Thomas F. Stansfield said action would have to wait. The county, he said, needed to know who would inspect the required sprinkler systems.

"We got to get it nailed out -- how we're going to enforce this," he said.

As a result, the council has delayed final action on the ordinance until its Aug. 12 meeting.

In the meantime, the council plans to take a closer look at a similar Montgomery County ordinance that requires sprinklers to be installed in existing buildings when a renovation cost amounts to 50 percent of the assessed value.

One problem the council has had with the existing ordinance and proposed revisions is dealing with renovations.

The existing ordinance requires all renovations, repairs and remodeling to existing commercial buildings to include sprinklers in the entire building. Council members have frequently found themselves considering requests for relief from the ordinance requirements.

In drafting revisions, they have been concerned about the potential for loopholes and fairness.

"We don't have much of a problem with new construction," Councilman Henry C. Heine Jr. said. "Our problem really is in existing structure. How do you deal with it?"

Best offered to share information with the council.

"I'd be happy to share what we've learned fromour mistakes," he said.

Under the proposed revision, sprinkler systems would be required in all new commercial construction of single-story buildings larger than 8,500 square feet and multistory buildings larger than 10,500 square feet.

All new residential dwellings, excluding single-family homes, also would be required to include sprinkler systems. Sprinklers would be required in renovated buildings under certain conditions.

The council has been wrestling with the revisions for months, after both businesses and residents complained that the ordinance imposed burdens and would curb downtown revitalization.

Some council members have suggested that all existing multifamily buildings be retrofitted with either fire alarm systems or sprinkler systems.

In encouraging the council to consider further measures, Best noted that the city's buildings were "not getting any younger" and many are located close to one another.

"When a fire death occurs, it's before anyone calls the fire department," he said.

Taneytown resident Don Manno, urging the council to take action, noted that having ladder and hose trucks respond to fires is "really the old way" of fire prevention.

The new way, he said, is sprinkler systems.

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