RUMFORD – Fears that selectmen could soon order landlords to remedy code violations in their buildings were largely alleviated by a meeting Wednesday among landlords, town and state fire officials.

Having adopted the National Fire Protection Association’s Life Safety Code, Rumford will launch either late this month or in November its Inspection and Corrective Action program to safeguard rental tenants.

The code addresses construction, protection and occupancy features necessary to minimize danger to life from fire, including smoke, fumes and panic. It also sets minimum criteria for the design of exits to allow prompt escape from buildings or into safe areas within buildings.

Wednesday’s meeting facilitated dialogue among several landlords and town officials and Nelson Collins and Ed Bennett from the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office in Augusta.

“I don’t think people should be afraid of what we’re doing,” Town Manager Len Greaney said after the meeting of the town’s willingness to be flexible over code violations.

“We’re not coming in with a sledgehammer,” Greaney said. “We’re coming in with an olive branch.”

Town officials have yet to decide which buildings and where code enforcement officer Rick Kent will start the code inspection process with assistance from Rumford firefighters, said fire Chief Gary Wentzell.

“One guess is that we could go street by street, probably starting with Falmouth or Spruce street,” Wentzell said after the meeting.

Greaney said he suggested to Kent that they draw letters from a hat and inspect buildings on streets beginning with the letters in the order they are drawn.

“Once we get a list of buildings and who the owners are, we will notify them. I think most of them are pretty receptive and we understand there are money issues involved, but nothing is getting shut down in 30 days,” Wentzell said.

That fear was generated by a Board of Selectmen decision two weeks ago about landlord Brian O’Keefe’s three-unit apartment building at 14 Prospect Ave.

After a hearing that spanned two board meetings, selectmen unanimously ordered O’Keefe to evict his 11 tenants within 30 days and fix the most serious code violations. The majority involved required NFPA Life Safety Code exits from the building and on each floor.

Wentzell and Greaney stressed that O’Keefe was given more than a year to file a plan of correction and remedy multiple code violations, but didn’t do so to the satisfaction of town officials; hence, the drastic action.

Greaney said Rumford has 75 vacant buildings – both multifamily apartment and single-family homes – and that’s what prompted this fall’s drive to start a building inspection program.

“I get a lot of complaints from people who stop me on the street and ask what are we going to do about all these ugly buildings. Well, our 1998 comprehensive plan defined that we do just what we’re doing now. We’ve waited 10 years and now I decided we better do something,” he said.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16, selectmen will OK demolition bids on two vacant buildings seized by the town. Additionally, they will seek the purchase of two buildings, one of which must also be demolished, Greaney said.

“I may have to allocate money for demolition from next year’s budget. I may even use some of our economic development money for demolitions this year,” he added.

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