OCEAN CITY – The Americana Hotel was slapped with a $10,000 fine and will reportedly stay closed for the remainder of the summer season after more than 100 people had to be evacuated from the 10th Street Boardwalk establishment last week due to a carbon monoxide (CO) leak.
The Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office levied the fine this week after determining that the oceanfront hotel, which was found to have no working carbon monoxide detectors despite the town law requiring them, should have actually had 10 such detectors.
Mayor Rick Meehan told The Dispatch this week that “you can’t put a price on a life, and thankfully, we dodged tragedy in this case, but we wanted to make sure we gave a fine that sent a strong message that we won’t permit non-compliance of our law.”
As per the ordinance, not having a carbon monoxide detector in the specified locations can earn the violator up to $1,000 per day in municipal infractions.
“Currently in a retrofitted building, a CO detector is required in each room with a source (dryer, pool heater, etc.) and in each room adjacent to it (over, under, four sides),” explained City Manager Dennis Dare via email this week. “In the case of the Americana, there were 10 detectors required. Therefore, 10 fines of $1,000 (which is the maximum) were issued.”
What could be more of a blow to the hotel, however, is the fact that it will remain closed to the public until “at least September,” as per a hotel phone operator on Wednesday, missing out on the profits usually earned in the final weeks of the summer season.
Fire Marshal Sam Villani said that the building will remain closed until his office receives a certification from mechanical engineers and a mechanical inspector that the hotel’s fuel burning equipment is in compliance with regulations, but noted he had not heard of a specified date for the hotel’s re-opening.
It was also hinted at this week that the hotel could face additional charges for non-life threatening building violations.
Councilman Doug Cymek, who was on the scene when the hotel was being evacuated last week, said the building’s mechanical rooms were in “deplorable” shape, and other reports from the scene noted that the Fire Marshal’s Office could have had “multiple possibilities if not causes for the leak” based on the condition of the ventilation and heating systems.
Dare said that building violations were in the process of being issued, but noted that the hotel will not face additional fines unless the owners fail to make the corrections after being cited.
Last week’s CO leak comes two months after a family of six had to be treated at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin after exposure to carbon monoxide in the El Capitan condominium building on 4th Street.
In both the Americana and the El Capitan CO leak cases, neither building had working detectors. The El Capitan was fined $2,000 for non-compliance of the town’s law.
Carbon monoxide detectors can be purchased for anywhere from $30 to $40, according to industry reports and have been available since 1989 at a rather inexpensive price.
Ten such detectors for the Americana would have roughly cost about $300-$400, based on those estimates, and the concern over other buildings may have neglected to comply with the town law, despite the rather small investment to owners, boggles the minds of some in the town’s hierarchy.
Villani said that of the estimated 29,000 units that should have working carbon monoxide detectors, only 200 letters were sent to his office in February reporting compliance, as required by Ocean City’s 2007 law.
After the 24-month grace period of sorts, which expired Feb. 5, 2009, property owners should have sent a letter to the fire marshal stating the detectors had been installed.
That fact could have been a major reason the fire marshal conducted a random sweep of several blocks in the downtown area of Ocean City this week. The results were unavailable.
Still, Meehan looked to the bright side of the situation, praising the first responders to the scene at the Americana.
“If anything, this unfortunate incident shows that we were ready,” said Meehan. “Once the call came, our responders were on the scene in very little time and had already prepared themselves for dealing with victims who could possibly have been exposed to carbon monoxide.”