Mid-Way fire code gets a look

Midlothian City Council keeps sprinkler requirement in place for some hangars

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror
The Midlothian City Council recently voted to keep in place fire codes that will affect Mid-Way Regional Airport, which is jointly operated by the cities of Midlothian and Waxahachie. Through an agreement reached when the airport was established, Midlothian will apply its fire codes across the entire airport property.

Building codes can be a vexing conundrum for many cities, and can be especially complicated when two cities are involved.

The Midlothian City Council recently spent time mulling regulations before voting unanimously to keep for now the requirement that all new buildings greater than 6,000 square feet must have a fire suppression system in place, in accordance with the International Building Code. That includes hangars exceeding that size at Mid-Way Regional Airport.

The matter may be revisited at a future meeting once staff gathers more information at the urging of Mayor Richard Reno and other councilmembers.

Assistant City Manager Clyde Melick said the matter came up for discussion among staff regarding structures at the airport, which is jointly operated by the cities of Midlothian and Waxahachie.

Melick said according to the 2015 International Building Code and amendments added by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, any new building 6,000 square feet or larger must have a sprinkler system. Melick said the airport is asking for exemptions for hangars smaller than 12,000 square feet.

At issue is the cost of installing a sprinkler system, with figures between $200,000 and $500,000 mentioned during the discussion.

Midlothian Fire Chief Dale McCaskill told councilmembers the subject is a proposed hangar at the airport that will encompass 11,000 square feet.

McCaskill said through an agreement that was reached when the airport was established in the 1980s, Midlothian will apply its codes to the entire airport property, even though much of the property is in Waxahachie city limits. The proposed hangar is in Waxahachie, but McCaskill said Midlothian’s codes would apply.

“I’ve talked with the city of Waxahachie fire chief (Ricky Boyd) multiple times to try to get some guidance from them,” McCaskill said. “Technically it’s our responsibility and we have no issue applying that, but it is within the city of Waxahachie, which is kind of unique. I don’t normally enforce my codes in another city.”

McCaskill said Waxahachie also follows the IBC, but opts to use a less restrictive option within the code whereby the threshold for requiring sprinklers is 10,000 square feet, and that only applies to businesses.

Mid-Way Airport manager Darrell Phillips said his airport and others follow fire standards issued by the National Fire Protection Association, which differs from the IBC.

Phillips said most hangars are un-insulated metal buildings used for storage only and would need to be heated if a sprinkler system were installed. However, councilmember Ted Miller said sprinkler lines are normally dry when not in operation and so would not require heating.

Councilmember Walter Darrach said he mostly agreed with Phillips, but that the fuel contained in stored aircraft presents a potential fire hazard, which requires fire suppression at a certain point. Darrach provided an example where potentially as much as 1,600 gallons of fuel could be contained within aircraft parked in a hangar of that size.

Drew Sambell, chairman of the Mid-Way Regional Airport joint board, said it was the consensus of his board that requiring hangar spaces between 6,000 and 12,000 square feet to be sprinkled would “greatly impair” economic development at the airport.

“You have appointed us to the airport board,” Sambell told the council. “You have asked us to bring economic development to the airport. We have worked hard to bring some development, and we have some things on the table.”

Mark Singleton, president and CEO of Citizens National Bank of Texas and a former Waxahachie councilmember, also touted the economic significance of the airport and urged the two cities to work closer together.

Noting that he and two other councilmembers have aviation experience, Mayor Reno said he needed more information before he was comfortable in making a decision that differs from staff recommendations.

“I agree that the airport is a gem in the rough,” Reno said. “It’s something that needs to be developed. It has tremendous potential and I don’t want to hurt it. But I’m in a quandary here. I don’t have enough to not agree with staff … It’s not a simple, straightforward decision.”

McCaskill said the fire department does not want to stand in the way of economic development, but public, property and firefighter safety must be considered.

“Those are the decisions I have to make and bring to you for your guidance and your approval,” McCaskill told councilmembers. “We operate under the codes that we believe suit the citizens of Midlothian the best.”

In other council matters, a workshop was scheduled for Tuesday evening to review and discuss a request for proposal for the former Lawson buildings at 211 and 301 West Main Street, discuss a potential Downtown Incentive Program, and review and discuss the southwest portion of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.