CO Plan Features Mix Of Education, Inspections

OCEAN CITY – Ocean City’s strategy for enforcement of the carbon monoxide (CO) law seems to be one of defense through diplomacy instead of offense via all-out inspections.

Town officials are keen on spreading the word about their carbon monoxide detector law, since only 17 percent of properties are in compliance, according to Fire Marshal Sam Villani on Tuesday.

Villani said that the best way to deal with non-compliance of the city’s carbon monoxide detector law is through education, and though that might be the most direct way to handle the matter to some in the community who are up in arms about two CO leaks at resort hotels this summer, town officials seem to be in concurrence that it’s the most effective.

“It’s not like we have Gestapo-like powers to search properties for CO detectors,” said City Manager Dennis Dare. “Sam [Villani] has to make an appointment, so inspections in many cases, would take a lot of time, cost a lot of money and might not be that effective. Education is the best way to let people know.”

Villani outlined to the Mayor and City Council his recommended strategies in order to avoid potential tragedies in Ocean City like this summer’s two CO leaks at the Americana Hotel and the El Capitan, and the 2006 leak at the Days Inn Hotel that claimed the lives of a Pennsylvania man and his 10-year-old daughter.

“Information on carbon monoxide legislation has been sent out and we are in the process of getting the message out about the dangers of carbon monoxide,” said Villani.

Villani said that a 30-second public service announcement will be run on eight local radio stations in upcoming weeks reminding property owners and residents about not only the town law, which requires CO detectors in buildings that have fuel burning equipment, but also the dangers of the toxic, colorless, and odorless gas.

Villani said that even though “about 70 percent of the 1,200 units inspected in Ocean City were found to be in compliance,” only 17 percent of the nearly 30,000 units that need them have sent his office a confirmation letter of concurrence with town law.

Simply put, after the town passed the ordinance in February of 2007, property owners had 24 months to comply with the law, and after that grace-period of sorts expired this past February, Villani’s office should have received a written letter from all property owners notifying the city of compliance with the law.

This fact perhaps made some on the council a bit pessimistic on whether or not more education and diplomacy with property owners was the best way to ensure that Ocean City’s visitors would not be subjected to future CO leaks.

“What good is that going to do, if I sign it and send it back to you?,” queried councilman Jim Hall.

Villani said that reminders will be inserted into business license renewal forms, tax bills, door-to-door education and disseminated through social networking and online mediums.

Manpower and money might be the two main factors in this diplomatic strategy from the town as Villani’s office is comprised of less than 10 people who have much more to do throughout the town of Ocean City than conduct unit-by-unit inspections for CO detectors. The cost of such a ramped up effort would also be significant, according to Councilman Joe Hall.

“I think Sam’s moving in the right direction because we have to enforce this law in a reasonable and efficient way,” said Hall. “It’s not that hard to become complaint, and it’s not that financially cumbersome either, but failure to comply will bring the hammer of the town’s law.”

Hall is optimistic that Villani’s strategy will ramp up awareness and compliance to more than half in the next six months, and as some in the town have added, that’s far ahead of what the majority of other municipalities have done to date.

“I think Sam’s plan is a good one, but I am more concerned when they go back to their towns or homes and they haven’t been informed that it would even be a good idea to have (detectors) installed,” said Dare. “Sometimes people just have to be responsible. Smoke detectors have been required for decades and we don’t have a team monitoring compliance of those.”

Despite Villani’s approach and strong message to council that the masses would comply with the town’s proactive CO law, he did express a bit of disdain for the ignorance of property owners who have not complied with town’s law to date.

“I’m not ecstatic, I will say that,” said Villani. “I’d like to see a bit more cooperation from owners because I don’t know what else we can do to get the message out aside from standing on the side of the road with a sign on the way into town.”

Mayor Rick Meehan noted that even though education about the law is at the forefront, it’s not to say that Villani and his office are deserting the idea of enforcement.

“I truly don’t think that he presented a recommendation that didn’t have any teeth in it,” said Meehan. “They will still do inspections but they have put a plan in place that will get the job done and not just takes shots in the dark. The fact that the Americana Hotel is still closed today is a sign that we mean business.”