Fire Marshal investigating rehabs statewide
by Rachael Griffin
rgriffin@annistonstar.com
Apr 04, 2013 | 4558 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One of the Oxford Tri-County Outreach rehab buildings in Oxford next to the Oxford Fire Dept.  (Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star).
One of the Oxford Tri-County Outreach rehab buildings in Oxford next to the Oxford Fire Dept. (Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star).
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Alabama fire officials this week said they are examining drug rehabilitation centers statewide to ensure they’re in compliance with safety codes.

Alabama Fire Marshal Edward Paulk on Tuesday said several facilities in Talladega County and Coosa County were under investigation by deputies from his office.

“We’re looking at any and all that come to our attention,” Paulk said.

Farm Ministries, a rehab center in Sylacauga, was the most recent center to be served with code violations, according to Steve Holmes, public information officer at the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Holmes noted in an email that several other centers are expected to be served letters soon.

“I fear that this problem is all over the state,” Paulk said.

Three rehab centers in Oxford were cited for fire code violations last month. Oxford Outreach, Tri-County Outreach and Real Life Recovery have been ordered to meet with an architect by April 11 and work toward code compliance. The centers are required to install sprinkler systems, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency lights, emergency exits and to conduct fire drills at regular intervals.

Farm Ministries was inspected March 21 and cited for 14 code violations, according to documents released by the Fire Marshal’s Office.

Some of the violations included: using extension cords as a substitute for permanent wiring, failing to have a sprinkler system, failing to have fire extinguishers and failing to mark doors with visible exit signs. The report states the rehab must correct violations by April 19.

Garnet Raymond, house manager at Farm Ministries, said an architect visited the rehab center last week and plans to install a sprinkler system are underway. Raymond said he’s been assigned to nightly watches to ensure nothing catches fire before the sprinklers are installed.

The rehab center opened nearly two years ago, Raymond said, and houses 10 to 18 men in a four-bedroom, one-story home.

Raymond described the faith-based rehab as a “sober living environment.”

Josh Smith, intake coordinator and director of Farm Ministries, said he filed an appeal of the fire marshal’s orders last week and was waiting for a court date to be set as of Thursday evening. Smith said he was worried the center would be forced to close because of how much it would cost to meet code requirements.

Since the letter detailing the program’s violations was served March 22, Smith said, he’s had six men leave the facility.

“One guy said it was too crazy around here and he wanted to go back to prison,” Smith said. “We’re hoping everything will work out.”

Sam Long, executive director of CED Fellowship House in Gadsden, said he thinks every rehab program should be required to follow codes and policies.

“Every client has the right to be protected,” Long said.

The CED Fellowship House, Long said, is a 20-bed state-certified rehab facility for men. Long said he ensures his program is in compliance with codes and has a company biannually check the rehab’s sprinkler and alarm systems. The Fellowship House also has a regular “walk through” with the local fire department and has “never had any issues,” Long said.

Paulk said he’s concerned that when people hastily open a rehab facility they don’t consider the placement of exits or that more alarm systems are needed.

“With too many people in them, things get cluttered up and people can’t get out,” Paulk said. “If a fire would happen, they have a small amount of the time.”

Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.

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