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Enforcement officer says county violated Greensburg fire codes

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, April 27, 2012, 2:55 a.m.

Westmoreland County violated Greensburg fire codes when it stored explosive materials with guns and ammunition in a cinderblock storage room that caught fire last month.

City Code Enforcement Officer Les Harvey notified county officials that Greensburg will withhold a new occupancy permit for the rebuilt storage room unless changes are made to separate explosive and combustible materials.

"We won't cite the county for previous compliance issues as long as they are willing to adhere to the code and in the future take precautions," Harvey said Monday.

Fire broke out early on the morning of Dec. 19 in the room where the Sheriff's Office stored more than 900 confiscated weapons, including nearly 700 guns, along with ammunition and traffic road flares.

The county is awaiting a final report about the cause of the blaze, but an initial investigation indicated a spark from an electrical heating unit suspended from the ceiling may have ignited the flares.

The courthouse sprinkler system quickly suppressed the fire, but officials fear that most of the weapons were destroyed. Early estimates have suggested the damage and repair costs could reach $1 million.

Harvey said the flares should not have been stored near the heating unit.

"It's just an expensive lesson," Harvey said.

Acting Sheriff Charles Moore said the practice of storing the flares had been in place for more than a decade and before his predecessor took office in 2000. Moore this week replaced three-term sheriff Chris Scherer, who yesterday began his job as a Common Pleas Court judge.

Moore said his office had no indication that the storage room was in violation of fire codes, until the fire.

"We will do what we're required to do," Moore said.

City officials have asked that the flares be moved to another building such as the county's public works garage in Hempfield.

County engineer Mel Wohlgemuth said early construction plans call for a concrete wall to be installed to separate the ammunition and electrical equipment from combustible materials.

Harvey said that plan would satisfy the fire codes.

No cost estimates for the wall project have been calculated, and the county is awaiting cleanup bills for the fire. Last month, county commissioners awarded two emergency contracts for the project. No cost estimates were provided.

"We haven't paid anybody yet," Wohlgemuth said.

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