Re: drivable emergency access. was RE: "Cohousing Overlay"asZoning Regulation
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Wed, 16 Mar 2011 03:28:00 -0700 (PDT)
I agree with this.  In general, as a designer of ³eldercare² residential
facilities (retirement housing, assisted living, nursing homes, etc), I deal
regularly with public officials concerned with the life safety of residents
who are less capable of self-preservation than the general population.  And
Yes, your local fire chief has a lot of discretionary control over code
interpretation and unwritten local requirements for firefighter access; you
have to ensure s/he is happy with the design and layout.  Each project and
each community can be somewhat different.

On the other hand, as a professional earning a living in architecture and
design, I find Mr Tyson¹s recommendation for the de-licensing of designers
who miss this or that detail to be somewhat harsh.  I¹m pretty good, but it
has been quite while since the last time I was perfect.

Also in question is the attitude of the firefighting community.
Firefighters are extraordinarily and rightfully proud of their skills for,
and commitment to, fighting fires as they are found.  While they try to
conduct their operations to minimize needless or overwhelming risk to
themselves, I am totally unaware of situations where firefighters have
walked away from a blaze because they disagree with a tree or a turning

Philip Dowds AIA
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

On 3/15/11 10:18 PM, "Wayne Tyson" <landrest [at]> wrote:

> As a one-time park planner in addition to several years of education and
> experience in landscape design, park construction plan review, construction
> inspection, and ten years of the Subdivision Advisory Committee (worked
> closely with the Fire Marshal) for a major US city, I might be able to
> assist with specific issues of this kind.
> This post seems sensible from a distance, but specifics are necessary to
> minimize error and jumping to conclusions. All "seems to me" statements
> should be based on facts, as Kay points out. The best way to handle the
> issue of emergency vehicle access is to contact your local Fire Marshal for
> advice, preferably in the early stages of the planning process; trees and
> pavement are not the only issues, and most fire departments do not charge
> fees for this advice. Some might not enter the project property if
> access/egress is poor.
> Another issue that the Fire Marshal is likely to bring up is turn-around
> space for emergency vehicles and the entire public safety issue including
> the safety of firefighters. Lives have been lost when emergency vehicles
> have become trapped. As Kay points out, it is not necessarily adequate to
> provide width just enough for emergency vehicles to squeeze through. Tree
> placement and minimum limb height should always provide clearance for
> worst-case scenarios. Any landscape architect who does not provide for this
> should probably be dis-barred or at least barred from practice, or at least
> sued for malpractice if they do not both plan for this issue and provide a
> long term management and maintenance plan that schedules tree-training well
> in advance of the trees from becoming an obstruction while avoiding
> "lion-tailing," and other absurdities. Proper tree maintenance should nearly
> always be done with nothing larger than lopping shears; that this practice
> is rarely followed is not an invalidating argument, however. Trees should be
> planted where they will never cause a problem of any kind in their useful
> life. Tree removal should be a part of any good management plan/budget.
> Porous pavement is a good idea, but it should be laid on a base that will
> support the heaviest potential load, and sub-drain provisions should be
> considered in the planning process. Under some conditions, a Fire Marshal
> might consider a plan which would provide for off-pavement operations, but
> this option is dependent upon several factors such as the potential for
> getting equipment stuck, etc. If this option is reasonable, repair and
> replanting might be cheaper than large areas of pavement.
> Each case requires professional evaluation and familiarity with the site; no
> general description such as this should ever be relied upon. Just use care
> in selecting seasoned professionals for all work; even then you might
> consider outside professional review of proposals, plans, and
> specifications. While this might seem like an unnecessary additional
> expense, it should be far cheaper than correcting mistakes later, especially
> when you least expect them.
> WT 
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